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Conflict: You Have It. How Do You Manage It?

Sep 29, 2021

Organizations and families tend to have conflict because we are all individuals. Our differences do not have to be meaningful. But they become so based on our own interests, conflict styles and types of conflict. We’ll discuss some models that you can use to support your conflict capabilities.

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natalie mcveigh: Hi, we're here today to talk about mediation with your family enterprise. I'm Natalie McVeigh and this is my colleague and friend, Dr. Matt Kerzner. We're both Directors in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance, as well as the Center for Family Business Excellence.

Conflict is inevitable. We talk about conflict as two ideas trying to hold the same space. The question becomes what do we do when conflict arises in our family enterprise? And it arises because our business or our family office, our philanthropy, has rules and roles, and so does our family and sometimes they bump into each other to create a great scenario for some conflict. We love our families and we'd like to get through that conflict, and we have some strategies to support you to do that through mediation. Matt, I'd love to talk a little bit today about how we start understanding the individual's role in conflict.
matt kerzner: That's a great point and great question, and it's great to be here with you. I think the first thing that I think is important is to understand each side and what they're facing with the conflict. Everybody has their own, I don't like using word agenda, but they have their perspective on things and they have their core beliefs. The important thing that family members or executives within an organization need to understand is that if they want to move forward with what they want to accomplish, they need to understand the other side. They might not necessarily have to agree, but they need to understand where the other person's coming from.

NM: Makes a lot of sense. How do you figure that out?
mk: I use a technique called interest based mediation, and this is understanding both sides and then trying to find the middle ground between the two. One of the things that we do in the Center is we go through a discovery process. The first thing is I will meet individually with both parties and I will understand what I call their side. What they're trying to accomplish and maybe some of the resistance that they're facing. And when I get an understanding from both parties, then I can start thinking about what is important to both and try to find that middle ground.

After I do the discovery process, and I use a semi-structured interview when I do this, then I also talk about how the mediation's going to work, how often we're going to meet. We'll develop, I use the word ground rules, so we can keep the emotions kind of in check during the sessions, because it can get very emotional when people are explaining their side. Once we do this and we talk about the ground rules, I bring both parties together and we start discussing the process. And once we do that, then we can understand where they are and try to find that middle ground. Once we do that, then we create this psychological agreement or memo of understanding and develop that path forward.
NM: Wonderful. That sounds amazing. Do you find that that's easy for families to get over that hurdle to say I need a mediator.
mk:It's actually challenging. It takes a little time and trust-building. Usually, during the discovery process, we are brought in to actually look at the conflict. That's usually the first step, and once we start dialoguing with individuals and we find out where they are, then we can help reduce the resistance. The key thing here is that we allow them to understand the other party's point of view. That could keep the conversation and communication going. Once you do that, then you can see forward progress.
NM: I love that and you used a great word there, resistance. We think about, in families, as resistance is a good thing. Us, as family advisors or mediators, we get so excited when you have resistance in your family. That may seem counterintuitive, but it means you're protecting something important. It means we're actually getting at the issue.

In our experience, we've seen three types of conflict and they're often mistaken for the same conflict. The three types of conflict are task conflict, the what that we're doing. Matt and I know we're talking to each other today and we agreed upon that. However, if I had just invited Matt in to this room without telling him what we were doing, we might have what's called task conflict. Our what is what we're not clear about. And then, there's process conflict, the how we're going to do it. I can be really slow and I am, and Matt can be really fast, and he is. And so, the how that we do it bothers each other. He's trying to make me go really fast. I'm trying to bring him slow. And after a while, if we don't address the what conflict or the how conflict, it turns into this last piece of conflict. It turns into relationship conflict, where now anything Matt says, I can't hear it. But if my other colleague or my sibling in a family company says that same thing, I'm like, "Brilliant idea." But when he says it, I just can't hear it.

When you're coming to a mediator, it's not the only form of conflict, but many times it's that relational conflict, but we've mistaken and not addressed the other two pieces of conflict. When can we start decoupling that annoyance at one person, it's much more powerful.
mk:You're hitting the point very well. Part of what I do when I work with clients is I want to have them understand the awareness of what's going on, their environment. How they're coming across and how the other party is coming across. They don't have to agree on their style, but they have to respect the other party. Once they do that, this is what I call that interest based mediation. When they can start respecting each other's viewpoints, they can start seeing a path forward.
NM: Absolutely. The last piece we'll talk about is conflict styles. I like to call them problem solving styles, because when you hear conflict, you want to say, "No, we don't have conflict." But really, conflict is allowing you to get through things, and so we each have a different conflict style. I might be accommodating, "Whatever you want, Matt, whatever you want," as long as I can get out of this room really fast. I might avoid it where I don't even act as though there's conflict. My head is kind of hidden. I have a hard time making eye contact. I can compete where, "Now it's what I want, Matt," and you're going to come with me and I'm going to get loud and verbose. There's collaborative, where we can sit and discuss for hours, which people like to think of as the holy grail of conflict and problem solving in families. It takes a lot of time. Very valuable, but it might not be the strategy you use all the time.

And then, we have compromise, which is I want something, Matt wants something, and we give up somewhere in the middle to make it happen. We can help you understand your conflict style, the type of conflict happening, the interest being supported, not being supported, to move through it so that you can manage your conflict throughout your family enterprise, and it really is a conflict management process. How much is enough? How much is too much and how much is too little?
Thanks so much, Matt. This has been wonderful.
mk:Thank you. This was an excellent conversation.


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Natalie M. McVeigh

Natalie McVeigh is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Client Services Group and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.

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