50 Common Causes Of Family Business Conflict – #24 Perspectives & Behaviours

‘Perspectives’ describes the ways we look at things. Between family members, different perspectives (cerebral – ways of thinking about things), create different responses (emotional – ways of feeling about things), which can generate oppositional behaviours (painful – conflicted interactions).

This progressive development of differences is a common cause of conflict in family business.

Individual perspectives on any given issue, or relationship status, form through a complex combination of factors, including: personality type, intelligence, learning, experience, environmental circumstances, social conditioning, and (of particular importance) current moods.

These factors manufacture unique and specific lenses, through which participants view their situation, at that time. The way they perceive (see) things, has a major influence on their emotional response, which then determines how they’ll act, or refrain from acting, in consequence.

Of course, people being human and all, these factors are persuasive, rather than prescriptive. ‘Free will’ means that most people have choices, most of the time, and provided they have some degree of control over their situation, may readily choose to not do what they’d really prefer to do, under the circumstances.

Yet again we’re seeing an aspect of the Family Business Curse at work: ‘Business, fears Family, fears Business, consequences.’  Meaning: in some business situations we see wildly inappropriate, family-style behaviours being acted out. In some family situations we see practical and necessary actions being suppressed, for fear of likely consequences in the business; and we also see issues that should be resolved within the confines of the business (with its formal policies and independent, non-family employees) being worked out, in inappropriate ways, within the family.

With so many elements at work, it’s inevitable that differences will arise between family members confined within the pressure cooker that is their family business. When those differences create sufficient angst in any family member, especially if that angst is directed at another family member, conflict won’t be far away.
And the weird thing is that the aggressive or dysfunctional behaviours displayed in the family business are often the inevitable consequence of things that happened, or didn’t happen in the family, possibly a great many years previously.

Because those events were so personal to the individuals involved, and may only have appeared significant to them at the time because they were very young, or highly sensitised, nobody else, either in or out of the family, can know or understand the root cause of the problem.

When you can’t identify the cause of a problem, you can only treat its symptoms. In a family context, that makes it unlikely that any form of resolution can be achieved, and if anything is achieved, it’s likely it won’t last.

At a macro (whole of family) level, we can prevent the formation of differences in perceptions by ensuring that everybody has reasonable clarity and understanding about The Plan, and their place in it. When major expectations have been defined, determined, accepted, and documented, most people’s perceptions will be closely aligned.

At a micro (individual) level, differences in perceptions can be diminished, or removed entirely, by deconstructing the narrative behind whatever perceptions have developed.

The process involves taking affected parties on a focussed journey back in time to a point where they can agree on the event that started it all off (eg: when Harry poisoned Sally’s treasured goldfish. He was 8 and she was 6 at the time. They’re now in their late 40s, and have fought ever since, but had no idea why).

In conversations with psychotherapists and counsellors I often ask whether it’s appropriate to lay all the blame for 40 years of dysfunctional behaviour on the murder of a goldfish, by a minor. The usual response is: ‘if it works for them, roll with it.’

With a new adult perspective on the situation, it’s usually easy to get people to express regret, provide apologies, make some sort of reparation that’s meaningful to the adult version of the wronged child, and make fresh commitments to play more nicely in future.

Politicians and lawyers might find this hard to do (they treat apologies as confirmations of liability), but normal humans get to it quite easily, and obtain blessed relief, as a result.

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