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Bringing the family business community together

Long Term Impact Of Childhood Rows

4th August 2017 Elle Hansen, Regeneration Partners

Many conflicts in family businesses can be traced to relationship dysfunctions that began when one or more of the participants were children.

Can an established, prosperous and profitable enterprise with a solid business model and excellent prospects be damaged or even destroyed by a childish squabble? Is a grown-up company manager capable of behaving almost exactly as he did when he was a bratty little brother? Is Benjamin Franklin’s face on a $100 bill?

It’s a little-known fact of family business consulting that many conflicts in family businesses can be traced to relationship dysfunctions that began when one or more of the participants were children. Not infrequently, a turning point in resolving a family business dispute occurs when one or more of the participants realizes that the current conflict has little or nothing to do with business, but springs from something dating back to childhood.

There are a number of reasons so many family business disagreements have their roots in childish squabbles. To begin with, family relationships are far more durable, powerful and complex than other relationships. Relations with family members begin as soon as we are born and continue, in one form or another, throughout life. Compared to family connections, all but the longest business relationships are mere flashes in the pan.

Family relationships are also stronger than other connections. This is generally a good thing. The deep and abiding love family members feel for one another is legendary. However, this robust familial affection can be transformed into equally potent hatred in the presence of profound transgressions and betrayals such as parental neglect or abuse or sexual molestation by another family member.

Complexity is another important element distinguishing family relationships from other ties. Family relationships are especially complicated because they cover so many areas of existence and may involve such durable, dominant emotions. Family members often have split loyalties and murky motives and may not themselves be perfectly clear on why they battle.

With these considerations in mind, it should be obvious that a business that is owned and managed by a family is going to have much greater chances for durable, powerful and complex conflict. And, very often, these conflicts have their roots in childhood.

Siblings who vied with each other for parental affection in the nursery are likely to bring similar competitive instincts to the workplace. While on the surface a dispute may be over authority or compensation, it may ultimately be grounded in a toddler’s long-ago frustration with attracting parental attention away from a sibling.

Conflict style is another relevant factor. Conflict style is something many children learn from their parents, usually without realizing it. A child who grows up in a family with a power-centered conflict style, for instance, will tend to approach disagreements with a take-no-prisoners attitude even much later in life.

It’s not uncommon for conflicting business siblings to accuse each other of acting the same way they did as children. When one complains that his or her bratty little brother is now just a grown-up version of the same problem, quite often they are right. It is the same conflict that has been played out for decades, only now it is occurring in the context of leading a business enterprise.

Many times combatants are not even aware that they are continuing a battle that began when they were children. This is where an experienced family business consultant can play a vitally important role. Everybody knows whose face is on a C-note. But it takes special training and experience to recognize and be able to calm the bratty child inside a C-suite executive.

About the Author - Elle Hansen is the Managing Director of Regeneration Partners, a firm of consultants specilaising in the family business sector.  If your family is looking to break out of these familial cycles of conflict then please visit their website to find out more here

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