We encounter conflict as long as we are in relationships and have jobs, responsibilities, and tasks to be completed. Conflict is part of the human experience. It is time for us to recognize that conflict is not the problem; our response to it is. Whether we confront, avoid, panic, or blame, we can all do better.
Our traditional approach to conflict is to work to resolve or manage it. This is limiting. For family enterprises to thrive over time, it is not about resolving or managing conflict. It is about transforming the whole approach to conflict. Conflict resolution is unrealistic when conflict is bound to surface again and again, with new parties, positions, and interests. No family experiences just one single conflict. Conflict management is often what families are used to and tired of. It is not sustainable to manage and contain different interests and positions over the long term. We often hear people say they have learned to “accept” or “avoid” certain topics. Does this make you feel better? No. It tends to make people feel disconnected.
To engage in conflict transformation means understanding the motivations that exist and the capabilities necessary to achieve the desired objectives. It means examining the history, context, and emotions at play across the family, business, and ownership systems. When working to transform conflict, we see conflict as a creative force, a source for development.
To work to transform conflict is to look at recognizing, acknowledging, understanding, and addressing the underlying conditions that give rise to conflict inside your family and the business. It is not easy. Like any peace-building initiative, it takes considered care by each party to maintain the commitment to transform the relationship and the toxic dynamics at play.
If you find conflict rearing its head inside relationships that are important to you consider this: What triggers the conflict? What meaning have you made of the trigger? How do you typically respond? Does the existing structure lead to conflict again and again?
To transform conflict it is important to engage in the following steps:
Self-awareness is critical. How are you contributing to the problem and what are you prepared to change in regards to your role?
It is important to identify and acknowledge how you feel and how the conflict is straining your relationship and, as a result, the potential of the family as well as the business.
Are you willing to be vulnerable and share your emotions? It is not about being right. It is about being heard and understood. It is important that each party feel safe, trusted, and respected.
Can you identify the patterns and structures that are limiting the growth of your relationship and, as a result, the business? What results are you looking to achieve?
You are engaged in a process. New conflicts will arise and it is important to establish a structure that supports the continued awareness, acknowledgement, communication, and understanding as issues arise.
It is important to understand the complexity at work in conflict and engage in meaningful steps to transform it.