THU 16TH AUG 2018

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Bringing the family business community together

Focusing On Present Problems, Not Past Issues

22nd April 2018 Elle Hansen, Regeneration Partners

Conflict is an inherent part of any business. A family business, however, frequently means that conflict comes with a life-long history of prior conflicts, issues or complaints. 

On the surface it may appear that only the two-people arguing are involved in the conflict but in reality, they are bringing with them the past, present and future.

Conflicts are, in essence, rooted in time. The past contains the source of the problems underlying the conflict. The present conflict is an outcome of past problems that were not satisfactorily addressed. The future, meanwhile, represents the opportunity to resolve the conflict to everyone’s satisfaction – or to sow the seeds for yet more conflict down the road.

Learning effective conflict management skills is important in any organization, but because family members have a long history together these skills are even more crucial to the success of a family business. Before any conflict can be resolved, participants must be sure they are focusing on the right time period, and the present issues.

Many present-day issues can be triggered by past conflicts. The inability for family members to move away from a single-minded recounting of past hurts, transgressions and injustices can prevent true conflict resolution from happening. If parties to a conflict can’t stop focusing on the past and transfer attention and energy to resolving the present problem, the future is unlikely to represent an improvement.

The solution is for parties to a conflict to put the past behind them and work on the present problem and future solutions. That, however, is not so easy.

It’s neither natural nor helpful to pretend that the past never happened. Parties to conflicts may strenuously and understandably object to any attempt at what they see as brushing aside their complaints about past treatment. In fact, casual dismissal of history is a poor way to go about resolving a conflict. Family members with past grievances need to be listened to and their complaints properly validated and addressed.

The goal of conflict management is agreement on what can be done now and in the future. A successful resolution effort concentrates on understanding the present conflict and outlining remedies for past injustices, not dwelling on those injustices.

Many conflicts endure not because of the profound nature of the original sins against one or more parties, but because attempts to solve the conflict merely created new transgressions for later participants to become upset about.

About the Author - Elle Hansen is the Managing Director of REGENERATION.  If your family is struggling to resolve conflicts and can’t seem to focus on the business then REGENERATION can help.  Find out more about their work with family firms here

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