Communication People Matters

50 Common Causes Of Family Business Conflict – #15 Emotional Baggage

“Emotional Baggage” refers to unresolved emotional issues that have a detrimental effect on individuals, groups, or organisations. The baggage metaphor suggests carrying around past disappointments, wrongs, and trauma that hold current relationships hostage to negative expectations – based on experiences of long ago.

In article #14: “Parenting Styles” – I observed that the root cause of many family business conflicts can be traced back to events that happened, or were perceived to have happened, in the distant past. Irrespective of whether said events actually occurred as they’re now remembered, their profound emotional impact on one or more family members is now causing real problems in the family business.

For most practical purposes, an individual’s strongly held perceptions are as real to them as concrete facts. If the impact of an event, real or imagined, has affected somebody’s relationships and coloured their world picture for many years, it’s because they’ve invested significant emotional capital to internally support their chosen, or involuntary emotional response, to the real or perceived event.

When an individual’s feelings are more the result of emotional construct than reality, it’s even harder for others, even close friends and relatives, to understand and empathise – they simply can’t identify the active motivators when some or all of whatever’s driving the baggage bearer’s emotions and actions has been internally generated. They’re not on the same page, nor are they using the same emotional lens.

The heaviest form of emotional baggage comes from negative childhood experiences. Adult sufferers may look to their parents, siblings, or their own partners to fix their pain, rather than taking the responsibility on themselves.

Deep resentments arise when these (often unknowing) “saviours”, fail to perform – family cliques form, relationships go south, and dysfunction leeches out of the family to invade the family business.

Solution
Start by recognising that an individual bearing heavy emotional baggage probably has little control over some of their behaviours. This allows you to take a relatively dispassionate approach to the problem, and focus on its causes, rather than coming at it with resentment for the individual committing disruptive behaviours.

Counsellors and psychotherapists focus on “transference” – where internal systems of work, developed at an early age, based on an insecure and immature world view, continue to influence adult systems of work, in unhelpful ways. Unpacking, contextualising, and rationalising the situation can help to lighten the baggage load.

Coaching is used to lift an individual’s performance. A good coach will get under their client’s skin to understand their backstory. This provides an informed foundation for an individualised personal development program, which should include strategies for minimising the self-sabotage that’s happening as a consequence of carrying around heavy emotional baggage.

Support services can help to prepare individuals to participate constructively in the conflict resolution process necessitated by their dysfunctional behaviours in the business, and their antagonistic attitudes to some or all members of the family.

It’s usually best to classify the process as a series of “facilitated conversations”, rather than as a formal mediation, because baggage carriers often have a strong victim mentality that makes them overly-sensitive to any suggestion that they’re at fault, or are in anyway the cause of the problem. After all – the world owes them, it’s not the other way round, at least at this stage.

“Facilitated conversations” sound and feel more user-friendly as they don’t imply formal agendas, or strict timeframes. They can even be used to help satisfy attention-seeking needs, as part of a conscious strategy designed to get the baggage carrier to the table in a solution-oriented frame of mind.

The aim of the process is to achieve a shared understanding of:

(a) what’s going on;

(b) what’s going wrong and

(c) why it’s all happened/happening.

This will almost certainly require a recasting, or acceptance of alleged issues, facts and causes.

Improved baseline understandings, combined with some empathic validation of the current situation, creates a base for relationship repair and thence, future performance commitments. Mutual acknowledgements, apologies and reparations (usually notional) complete the transactions required to achieve resolution.

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