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On-Demand: Family Business Webinar Series | Communication, Connection & Conflict

Aug 3, 2022

In this webinar, Natalie McVeigh will cover key information for understanding how and when problems occur and share practical techniques for working through conflict, developing a shared understanding and moving toward resolutions that really work.


Natalie McVeigh: Thanks so much. Great to see many of you again, some of you are here from the first webinar. There'll be a brief, tiny repeat of just a small-level setting bit of the content, and then we're really going to spend the entire time talking about conflict.

There'll be a brief, tiny repeat of just a small-level setting bit of the content, and then we're really going to spend the entire time talking about conflict. I know it's everyone's favorite subject to avoid. Let's find some strategies today together that might support you in your conflict journey. A lot of these are this webinar's smattering of tools, although we'll also describe why conflict ends, why it's so common in families. If you're telling me that you don't have conflict in your family, the answer is you do, just the style of conflict that you like to have is avoidance. It's not if conflict occurs, it's when conflict occurs.

I just wanted to briefly level set how we think about conflict. A lot of people say it's a difference of opinion, a lot of people say it's an issue, it's a dispute, an argument. Some people go so far as to say it's litigation. I think of conflict as an opportunity for problem solving. The reason I think of it that way is conflict is just two opinions or ideas or positions trying to hold the same space. Sky is blue, the sky is green. In fact, both are wrong, right? The sky is actually just a refraction of color and doesn't have any color in itself. Really just helping ourselves calm down the way we talk about conflict, that it doesn't just automatically trigger us. If someone says, "I have a conversation I have to have with you where we have conflicting opinions." You might hear, "Oh no, it's time to put up our Dukes." We want to take that away.

I'm briefly going to touch on the 3 Circle Model again, because it's really important in helping us understand family conflict. There are three circles. There's your family, there's your business, and there's the ownership. In those three circles, there are overlapping areas where you might have a family employee. It's the overlap of family enterprise. You may have an employee, who's an owner, but not a family member. You may have a family, who's an owner, but not an employee. Usually, in that center, where it completely overlaps, we call this the Genesis. They're the people who often started the company. They wear all of these seven hats all at once, and they don't know that they're doing it. The reason I'm showing this slide in this tool, and it'll probably show up in all the webinars, we won't spend all our time on it, is because the leading cause of conflict in family enterprise, that's families who own businesses or families who have foundations or families that share a cabin, is role confusion.

When I'm trying to tell you what to do in the company, when I might be an owner, but I might not be the manager, or I'm really disappointed in what an employee did in the company that bears my name, even though I'm not an owner or an employee, and I go to talk to them about it. Being really clear on what role you're in and what hat you're talking from is the very basis of eliminating a lot of conflict. It's not to say that family members shouldn't have an opinion on company culture. Absolutely. When their legacy is involved, they should. It's not to say that owners don't want to make sure their investment is stewarded. They absolutely do. Yet, you want to partner with the leaders in these areas and make sure when you're addressing that conflict, you're addressing it to the right person at the right time, and you're wearing the right hat to be upset.

If you are talking to your brother and he's the employee, and you're also an owner. He's the head of the business, he's the CEO, let's call it our president, and he just happens to tell you how annoying his vice president is, and he's just annoyed that he's taking too much time off. You want to clarify, are we having a brother conversation? Am I putting on my 50% owner hat, where I'm really annoyed that the guy who's supposed to be there when you are not there, isn't there? Those are all the questions that this really helps. I encourage people to have a dynamic version of this, not a pretty PowerPoint one, where you enter in the names, you change the size, maybe family's the biggest, maybe the company's the biggest, maybe ownership is the biggest, because it's going to help you catch yourself when you talk from that other lens.

I have a client I've been working with for a little while, and we just did a transition with this client. One of the things that they had, and they don't even have a majority owner anymore. They have had their family business for four generations now, so the largest single shareholder is 25%, which is not a majority. But with this company, there were five siblings in the company, three brothers, two daughters, or three brothers, two sons. I'm not going to start over again. There's three boys and three girls who are all in the same generation. Three and two, sorry. They don't even all have 25% clearly because the math doesn't work there, and they have many other siblings who have 1% and they often talked in this family company about, "I'm an owner".

Now, of the five who were in the company, two were the actual main leaders in the C-suite, the rest weren't. But there was a way that they talked about ownership being the reason they got to make those decisions, which isn't actually true. Owners only have a certain set of rights, but that really led to a lot of role conflict in this family, because then all owners who had any amount of shares started saying, "We get to impact the company directly," because that's the language we talk about with this. Now, for some of you say, "Yeah, the hundred percent owner should be the C-suite." That's okay, if you make that choice and you can still be an owner and not the manager, et cetera.

Now, there's a reason that conflict happens family companies, because you have a family system, which is really open and kind, and usually allows for the mistakes that you make. You can show up to a holiday party and wear whatever you want. You show up to a business meeting and there's a way I'm expected to dress for those business meetings. They often don't have this perfect overlap that you're seeing here. They actually bump into each other. The rules and regulations in my business might be different than the rules and regulations in my family. Yet, we're spending time with the same people in the same circles. Businesses have a heterogeneity of stakes and stakeholders. There's a lot of different people. You hear about diversity in the workplace. You have diversity of thought, you have diversity of experience, diversity of background. Then you have multidimensional relationships. That means that one day, you and I were peers, but now I'm your supervisor. Or maybe I left the company, I'm coming back.

With the family, you have these homogenous relationships. Even as woke or politically different we might be nowadays, we're seeing that disparity in religion and politics and families, you're still the same family. You have that same genetic code and often we're raised with very similar values, which we're going to talk about values conflict later. You have long tenure relationships. I don't. No matter how mature I get, no matter how old I get, I don't ever stop being my parent's child. I'm always their child. So, and so is always my aunt or my uncle, and then you have the person trying to exist within these systems.

I intentionally left out the ownership system, because it just creates an added layer of complexity. There's also talked a lot about what a family enterprise is last time, but in short, it's if you have shared decision-making or shared ownership. It's like the sun, you get too close to the sun and you get burnt. You get too far from the sun and you're Pluto. One year, you're a planet, one year, you're a star, and one year, who knows? We don't know what we're going to call Pluto next year.

We balance these things called interdependence and independence. What I have to do to belong to the business sometimes means I don't get to have my dream. My family's background is military, I think I told you that. I really love being a consultant. There's nothing wrong with the military. They're great critical thinkers. Some now actually do have organizational design consultants, but when I was getting into the industry, they didn't. The part of me that really likes doing that, that really likes consulting, really likes looking at problems from the outside, not necessarily being on the inside, the independence of Natalie was very much being squashed by the interdependence of the Navy. The one way, the being a part of.

If you think about your family company the same way, we're talking about lumber companies. Lumber is brilliant. It's versatile. It's an amazing industry. I've spent a long time working with it. I love it. Yet, you might have a young person who's really into a creative endeavor. Their independence might have to change because there might be a way that you do things the same. I can't use the example of tech because a lot of what you all are doing now gets automated. There's actually a lot of ways to fit in in family companies now, because they're agile, because they can change very quickly, because they're trusted. The question is, are we measuring how much we're asking people, "do you like us," when they're joining family enterprise?

That's really what this balancing act is about. It's another area of tension, because if I had spent a long time in the military, which I didn't, there would be a part of me that felt like it just wasn't working. Like if we're three dimensional creatures, one of these signs I'm just not showing and that happens too in families when we don't show the side of us that communicates that's different. We talked about that in the last webinar, that the place we most want to belong is our family. Imagine that I'm making myself smaller or different to abide in the family, and then I'm making myself different, cutting off some of my skills and my ingenuity to also fit in the company. If we have these three sides, two are already collapsing. It only leaves one area, which can create resentment from the next generation. It can also sometimes lead to the reason why the current generation has some frustrations. They didn't innovate enough.

Then, I just want to talk about ... first off, I want to pause. We still have the Q&A. Last time, people waited till the end to really ask their direct questions. You have this deck. If you don't already, you can download it in the app. If you have burning conflict question, feel free to use it and it's all anonymous. I won't say who the questions came from, they will not be recorded but I can speak to that. We tend to find conflict in these discrete areas and family enterprises, the family. We went through that last time. When we stereo at someone, when no matter what they say, we think they're the complainer, when we have sibling rivalry and trust me, you do. It's just one of those things that happens. It's very hard for people to be collaborative.

There's a wonderful game called pandemic, buy it now. I know it's a little on the nose. We have a pandemic, it was out before that. It's a beautiful game, and I can send you a shortened instruction sheet because their instructions are a little complex, that you hand out cards and everyone gets to see your card. Like you're the medic or you're the doctor or you're the researcher or you're the transportation guy or gal or you're the EMT. It doesn't matter what the cards are and I hand them out to most families face up, so everyone can see what that card is. Everybody picks up the card and they do this and usually, halfway through the game, you all start losing incredibly. These families are going under, you're not going to get the pandemic, and then someone either behaves in one of two ways.

If you're a directive person, you rip all the cards at everyone's hands and say, "Well, she put them down at the beginning, let's look at them." Or, if you're a little more of an influencer, someone says, "Hey, why don't we see what everyone has and see what we can do?" I played this with a lot of different countries, but predominantly in the United States, so we're meant to be independent. We're meant to be competitive for various reasons. You do have sibling rivalry, no matter how well you get along, because I have never yet seen a family put the cards down and operate that way until they've figured out that's the way they're going to do it. Then you have conflict in the asset, conflict in the actual enterprise. Who's going to be the leader? What are the external realities? What do our vendors, suppliers, external shareholders, if you have any, what do they think? How do we communicate? There are norms in how the business communicates and they might be very different than how we communicate as a family or as an individual.

The organizational constraints that really impacts that interdependence, independence idea, you might be the most amazing person who does social media, but we don't need a social media presence, we have legacy clients. Would you like to work in our ERP system or something? I don't know. The relationships, the structures, the roles, and then really about values. We'll spend a lot of time on values later because we've found that most families have the same values. They just are a different order, and that's really important. My number one in your number 10, if that's the way they always list, we're going to have trouble that we actually communicate those values, because many times we don't, and they're not seen. Our values are not seen. They're not something someone can observe.

Then the categories of values. I might be someone who's motivated socially, you might be someone who's motivated by a return on investment, and those don't always play well together. Great. I have a question I'm going to get to right now. What about the moral conflict amongst family ownership groups, i.e. Vast differences in social issues? There can be a conflict that's very difficult to navigate when some cannot separate the person of least from what's best for the business employees, vendors, and customers. This is a hot button issue. This is why I always made my little joke about being woke or left or right. I'm genuinely agnostic to what my clients believe. I think it's the best for them. Yet, there are times in which sometimes we decide to not open our window.

I have a client I love dearly in Florida and they're Southern Baptist and they're just the kindest people I've ever met. Really, really love them. Well, they had few shareholders, major shareholders, actually. The together vote was I think about 51% of these two shareholders. These two shareholders were very liberal and not just very liberal, they were actually anti-religious. Well, for many, many years, because it's a fourth generation family company, a lot of their money went towards Christian causes. Some of those Christian causes actively fought against some things that these people believed in, specifically access to healthcare relative to women's rights.

There was a really interesting conversation there because what people wanted to say, is this a position issue? I'm going to skip ahead and we'll come back to these things. It's really important here, that this is a position issue. The position is we believe in pro-life, we believe in pro-choice. I think that's the framing of it. That's the position and they're diametrically opposed. My position and your position cannot live in the same world. We call these binaries. It's really black and white thinking.

Well, I knew them and they'd done some values work, and so I asked some questions like, what underlies that position? How do you know that position works? We started doing something which is called interest-based negotiation. Traditional negotiation is supposed to be position bargaining compromised decisions. It's very pushing you, it's very binary, it's very simple. Instead, with interest- based negotiation, you say, "Fine. You care about life. You care about health," and we started going down into the values that were the interests that we could figure out and we took the position off the table. At the end of the day, they didn't make any donations that were pro or against this one specific issue.

Instead, they reframed their donations to actually get to their values and their interests, which really were about supporting families. You can support families in many ways outside of this central issue. Now, that's not to say this central issue is important to you, I'm not saying it's not important. That's not the point. The point is when I understand the interest, there are many different ways to express my values. I think I told this story last time, and if I didn't, it needs to be told now.

My family values presence. My entire family. My brother, my sister, my mother value it a little lower than my dad and I, but it's our number one. Well, Jack was in the Navy. Jack is constantly early. That's important. If I'm mid-sentence with him and he knows he has to be somewhere else, that's it, I'm cut off, I'm done. I'm the opposite. The last webinar I ran over a little bit, same thing, you ask questions, I'll answer them till ad infinitem. I'm constantly late. Behavioralizing presence means early to one of us means late to another one of us, so behavioralizing, supporting families, doesn't have to end in that one result.

Understanding the real position, there's a great story. I think many of you probably heard it. We call it the orange problem, where there was an orange, there were two siblings that are fighting over the orange. Fighting over the orange, they both wanted it and needed it, and for some odd reason, there was only one. There's not a world where that exists. It was a world in which it existed in this case though, and at the end of the day, after they split the orange in half, they did the Solomon thing. Someone asked, "How did it go?" I said, "Not well." We're like, "Why? You each got half the orange." Well, one sibling wanted to make a juice out of it and one orange is barely enough for a juice, but half an orange is impossible.

The other sibling just wanted the rind for some baking. That's often what happens when we get into position negotiating it. We call it sociocentric thinking, my group is better than yours. Be it religion, be it politics, honestly, sports teams. A lot of people say, "Oh, that's a fun way to be sociocentric thinking, group think." No, it's not actually. Why it's not, although I'm a good sports fan too, is most stadiums have more violence in them than some of the most violent cities per capita per occurrence. This is the challenge of having a very specific position that can't be opened up.

It's also the type of conflict we have. When we talk about stereotyping and we have long lives with our family members, there's a reason why sometimes we can't hear someone else. We have three types of conflict. Task or cognitive, which just say, "What? What?" Most of us know what we're doing in a family business. We're making our lumber companies super successful. That's the thing that we're doing. You don't often have task or cognitive conflict, the what conflict, unless you haven't made a strategic plan or a mission statement, but you are all very successful, mature people or you wouldn't be working with LMC, so I know you have that.

The other is process conflict. That is how we get things done. I'm a very slow person. I overprepare and sometimes I underdeliver. We're probably not going to spend all the time on all these slides, but I just want you to have them. If people are really fast, I annoy them by just being alive. That's the main type of conflict. Now, imagine a sibling who's always slow and who's always fast. Well, unless I've identified the type of conflict I have with my sibling, one day it'll turn into a relationship conflict. That's the conflict where I can no longer hear what you're saying, and you've seen that. You've been in a room before when either your sibling or your parents or your children where they're saying things that would make sense and you just repeat what the one said to the other and they're like, "Oh, great idea. Perfect."

The good news here, the happy news here is most conflict isn't actually relationship conflict. Most of it is what or how, task or cognitive process conflict that is unaddressed, and so I've now made it about you. Natalie is so slow that she's a killjoy every time I want to get things done fast, and so now, I don't want to listen to her because I know what she's going to say. "Slow down, slow down," and I think she means it doesn't trust me. If you just put a sheet of this, what, how, who, you don't have to know the technical terms, I just give them to you because I have to. What, how, who, and think about the last time you've had a conflict and you break it down into what, how or who conflict. In most cases, and take it with the person you have the most conflict within your family. Whether it's an external CEO, whether it's your sister, whether it's your uncle, go through all the conflicts you've had with them yourself.

No one has to know you're doing this and break this down, and I swear to you, I've been doing this for years with clients. I've never found one that told me at the end, it really was relationship. In fact, they found out it was either how or what conflict, and then you have a strategy for how to address that. If there's a strategy for Natalie to speed up a little bit and still get what Natalie is worried about, which is quality and safety, that would be a really nice conversation, and for you to go fast and know that I don't trust you.

The other thing to note here is that we all have different ways of conflicting with one another. It's either in which we're concerned about others or we're concerned about ourself. These are all styles we use, every single one of us. In fact, we usually use one up, one out and one down. The I win, I care a lot about me, I don't really care a lot about you is competing. You know what a competer thinks, because they will tell you. It feels like a bulldozer. The great thing about competers is they're just trying to get in the sandbox. They're just trying to play with you. They actually want you to match their energy, to push them, to push against them. That's the misunderstood version of them.

A low concern for others, a low concern for myself is avoidance. I don't care enough about you to tell you what you need to know, and I don't care enough about my opinion to tell you either. Avoiders, it genuinely shakes them to the core. If you think you have an avoider in your family, the best thing to do is a walk-in talk, where you're not facing the conflict opposite each other, you don't have to make eye contact, be out in nature, do something while you're discussing. Accommodaters, whatever you want, whatever you want, like whatever you want, because I care so much about you, I like you, and I really want to keep peace. Now again, sometimes there needs to be accommodation. We can't spend a ton of time on every decisions. If you have a sibling group that's owners or managing together or you even have cousin groups sometimes, and so we can't go through and collaborate on every decision.

Then you have the friendly, well-known compromise. I don't like to compromise, because to me it's lose-lose. Here's what I want, here's what you want, and we both give up enough that we get in the middle. What I'd rather have is collaboration, which is I say everything I need to know, you say everything you need to know, and we keep coming up with something brand new. That example of my clients who were really getting upset about how they were giving, and it was company money too. It was like social responsibility. It wasn't the foundation, which again, was why they wanted to consistently give the way they did, because they were in a location that made that. It's their collaborative solution was actually to reinvent their giving around this new thing they all cared about where no one had to sacrifice. It was genuinely something that people were happy about doing. A couple of people even went to serve on the board, one of the largest donation places that they were giving away money.

They got their community foundation involved in it with other large companies in the area that they were in. They were so excited about it and they owned it. I actually didn't come up with the answer. I couldn't. It wouldn't work that way. Now, don't hear me by the end of this that we have to always collaborate, because collaboration, true collaboration, where we can say everything we think, every option that's out there, takes two to four hours per subject. Yeah, you've got an immediate deadline, you might need your brother or sister who's a competer and we have to agree that we make decisions by competition under these circumstances. We make decisions by collaborating under these circumstances. We make decisions by compromise under these circumstances. It's also helpful to know that people have done these styles because it's worked for them, and it's because it's the most comfortable way they've been able to engage in conflict, which is inherently uncomfortable for most people.

That brings me to this slide. It's a paradigm for assertiveness. Often, we mistake assertiveness for aggression, and that's why we let assertiveness not happen. But if you think about accommodating and avoiding, they're passive, which lets others choose for us. You're going to choose for me and it might be the wrong choice, but it's not my fault. It's like an interesting escapism. Then there's aggressive, to choose for others, think of the competer. He or she is always right, always wrong, but no one gets a choice. Assertive is to choose for ourselves. Now, it doesn't mean that because I'm assertive, I will get my own way. It means though that I've spoken my piece. You can be assertive in compromise. You can be assertive in collaboration. It's very hard to be assertive in the other areas. Although, to be fair, a competer is asserting as well. They just might not be matched by the asserting.

Passive aggressive is to choose for others by preventing them to achieve what they want what they're choosing for themselves. That's when an aggressive person chooses, I let them and then I say something snarky about it later. I just encourage clients to pick out their preference of the four of these. What do they tend to do? With who? When? Because we change based on the audience we're with at times.

This brings me to the ladder of assumptions that came up a long time ago, but it's been revised by neuroscience. The reason this is attached to the assertiveness conversation is because we have biological reactions. Sorry. We have biological reactions to everything, to all stimuli. Our body takes it in, just like I'm coughing now. We have biological reactions where if we get nervous, we sweat a little bit more, we get anxious. Then later, usually in 0.07 seconds, we have a feeling about it. If I, feeling a little tense, I might say I'm anxious or excited. But then, we think about it. We then try to rationalize why we felt that way. That's where we create our beliefs, the meaning we assign to it, we make assumptions and we create a conclusion.

We've often thought that that path was different. We often thought that it's thinking first, and then the other things happen. It's not. What I encourage you to do when you go through the assertiveness model, when you go through the type of conflict model you have, is to really walk backwards on that ladder. Question yourself on the assumptions you've been making about, difficult people or high conflict people in your life. It's not to say their behavior is right. Think a lot of people then later say, we're saying they were right. No, I'm not saying they were right. I'm not saying that the behavior that they involved in this might not have been hurtful, but their intention might not have.

There's a great quote by John C. Wallen who says, "We judge others by their impact. We judge ourselves by our intention." What that means is it's not saying they're blameless. It's not saying to forgive them for what they did. It's to pull back the ladder and see if maybe they're being a competer, because it's important to them and you didn't know that you actually, to match their energy, you had to push back on them. Doesn't mean that they haven't taken your choice away over the years, but it does mean if one of you behaves differently, if somebody in the equation changes their biological reaction, sequence makes different meanings and thoughts and conclusions and behaviors. You can actually change the system.

I like talking about a family of five. Four of you believe in this. Four of you decide to change your conflict styles. Well, four times, say you change it by 3%, 4 times 3 is 12. That has created a 12% shift in the system. That's the thing about family. They're a living system that we all together create, we either are complicit in or we're willing to change. Knowing where you are is really helpful.

The other part of this is knowing how communication works in our brains. It's not a simple sequence. There's what we say, what we hear and it's often not right. We've seen that memory is terrible. It's much more terrible when we're in conflict. In fact, it's quite inaccurate. What we actually meant to say, again, we were in conflict, didn't use the right words maybe. The way we feel after we say it and happen at different times for others, they also happen at different speeds for other others. I'm not the best at having a surprise conversation. I've already talked about how I'm slow. My orientation is to be thoughtful, to be researched, to understand things.

Imagine you have a mix match of someone who really can and does think on their feet and someone who doesn't. These conversations are literally happening on different days at different hours and different moments. Following up, you've all heard that one of the best strategies from family business, it's everywhere, for conflict is to take a pause. Okay. Sure. But take a pause till when? You have to eventually clear that conflict or it becomes a pile of unresolvedness. My idea would be to follow up on all the conversations you think you've had with someone that you think you've solved with questions about really, what do you think was said? What do you think we agreed to? Not to try to do it in a demeaning way, but to really get through the meat of it there.

This is just a graph that you can spend some time with that talks about the actual chemicals in our brain when we're having healthy or unhealthy conversations. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin are the feel good hormones. They engage that front of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. If you have teenagers, it doesn't exist. That is learned last. Unhealthy conversations engaged that primitive brain, the amygdala. It's cortisol, testosterone, norepinephrine. We talked a little bit about the cortisol hangover in our last webinar. They are literally different zip codes. They couldn't be further from each other. Knowing that when you have a conversation that engages in this way, you are hijacking someone's ability to be their best selves, and you're hijacking your own ability to be your best self.

One of the things I do with my clients, I'm an executive coach as well as a mediator, is I still do something called shadow coaching, where I go to the meetings with my clients. Sometimes I get permission and I record them, because 95% of us think we're self-aware, think we're evolved. If you're on this webinar, you clearly like learning. You're probably in that 95%. Well, the study actually says between 10% and 15% of us are the self-aware fellows. That you are one of the people in that 10% to 15%, it's just highly unlikely, especially when your amygdala is reacting the way it is. Your view of what happened tends to give you the best vantage point for how you think you did successfully and the worst viewpoint for someone else.

I just wanted to come back to this. That was a great question earlier, I'm still happy to answer others is, it was the interests and needs and the values in here, but it's also the meaning, because most of the things we care the most about are the things we have the most resistance for. I just want to spend a second explaining what I mean for that. It means that if I'm willing to fight about it, I care about it. It means this is important, so instead of that taking your hand off the hot stove. This is bad analogy now because I'm like, "Well now, I'm going to tell you to burn yourself." Don't burn yourself, get an oven but still figure out a way to finish cooking dinner, because if you don't, you're not going to have anything to eat.

I think that's the important piece about any conflict. Yes, you want to pull away from position, and the way to pull away from position is to go through values. Not the values your family might have agreed to in a half an hour, "Because you read, you should." But the real individual values that I have, there are assessments that can tell you your individual values. Like I mentioned, one of mine is social. I really care about doing the right thing even if it might not be the most effective. That shows up as a conflict often in business with people, because the whole goal is to make a lot of money. To really figure out what their values are and the things you care the most about that have meaning, and then co-create these options, that healthy conversation, that oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also created by co-creation, and I know it's a buzzword now, but in neuroscience it means something very specific. It means you and I have designed this together. We've come up with these ideas and we both believe in them. That's what co-creation really is. Often, it's new. It's not to disrespect what happened before, but it's to be innovative, which I know family companies are most successful at.

This is how we tend to engage in conversation. We call it the tell, sell, yell. I tell you what I know, you'll tell me what, you know, I'm going to sell you on something right, and if I can't sell you on it, if I can't get the best pitch for you to follow in, I'm just going to end up yelling at you, and hopefully by pure sheer force of will, it'll happen. Almost always, it doesn't. When there's enough fear in an organization it does, but that only sticks for a very short period of time. Really reframing the sell, tell, yell into questioning, trying to understand what's there and to shifting the problem analysis. We're in a conflict, we're on opposite sides of the table here. If we can actually, and I encourage you to do this physically, if you can write the problem on a wall, whiteboard, butcher block paper, I don't care, but if you write the problem on the wall, where do we give our CSR? Who becomes successor? Do we need a family employment policy?

Often, the positions on family employment policy is it hamstrings me or it was never needed before or the idea that you're doing it to exclude someone specifically and on the plus side of employment policies is it's for the future, it's when things change and it's predictable. Those might be the positions. But you actually put it on the wall. The family employment policy is our problem. It's not Joe that wants it or Jim that doesn't, but it's really what to do about the family employment policy. You can start asking, "is it a good idea? What are the things about it that would really be limiting? What are the things about it? That it would really be great? How would we write it if we did write it? The end of your brainstorming maybe no family employment or something. That's fine, if that's the answer.

The answer might be a well-crafted, incredible family employment policy that everyone has thought about and has actually captured the nuances of your business. Now, it's not to say that's not easy. You're going to have people yelling at each other during this process sometimes. I don't want away from people yelling. I think that people need to be able to state their opinions as strong as they can. There probably should be some ground rules about maybe don't call each other names, but I don't think volume changes the conversation. Just like I don't think tears change the conversation. Why we tend to let conflict stop us is because of those autonomic responses, fight, flight, freeze, appease, or dissociate, because our body's telling us this is uncomfortable because our brain is the oldest organ in the body and it's saying, "I don't want to do this anymore."

When our fight, flight, freeze, disassociate, appease used to show up, it really was life or death. The challenge is understanding what's happening. You're either having a sympathetic nervous reaction where you slow down or you speed up. Or you're having a parasympathetic nervous reaction where you speed up or slow out. Knowing that it's happening to you allows you to have a perception of the problem.

The actual analysis of what's the true issue here, because we tend to deal with symptoms of the problem. Maybe we were writing an employment policy because Jimmy just can't get it together. That is not a good enough reason to write an employment policy. Same thing with a code of conduct. If we're going to put in in a code of conduct that someone has to respond within 48 hours, because Susie is the one who never responds to our family meetings, we're constantly waiting for her, we haven't identified the problem yet. We need to define the problem. Getting really clear and accurate on what the problem is and taking it away from the people in the room to actually analyze it and say, "What do we need to do?" Because we don't want to overly structure with governance. You don't want to take that special sauce that is your family that has made it work for so long.

If you're on this webinar, you're thinking about succession. You're probably second generation, third generation, some of you might be first generation, but even if you're first generation, you've got some family members in the business, which is more than most people could do or could handle. The question is, how do we think about this as a process, as a problem, instead of the people who are here that may be getting in the way. This one, I'm not going to read, you have this slide. This really just talks about how you can upregulate oxytocin and down regulate it. You have the power, when someone in your family is having a hard time or in your company, of changing the cortisol in their body, either up or down, and we're doing it with every interaction, every word we speak to them. This just allows you to find a mechanism. If you realize you actually triggered someone or they were accidentally triggered themselves, this is a way to pull them back in, to bring them to join their best thinking.

I just wanted to briefly touch on emotions I said earlier. Crying and anger shouldn't stop the conversation, because emotions are what happens right after our body has a response. We get emotional about it and then we get thoughtful about it, and each emotion has something to teach us. The gift of joy is emotional energy. Sadness has to do with sensitivity to pain and loss. We can send you some articles on this. It's important to understand that emotions have a role in finding a way to understand what your emotion is trying to tell you and to not take it out on someone else, that I am angry doesn't have to do with someone else made me angry. It's telling me what my own boundaries are. I know a boundary has been crossed and we can have that conversation.

We say you name it to tame it in neuroscience. Name it, validate it, acknowledge it, understand it, pay attention to the underlying conflict. Today was the straw that broke the camel's back. My sister and I tend to have conflict regularly, let's pretend, and this is just another time that this person did this thing and it wasn't actually that bad. We talked about knowing yourself and constantly monitoring the new data. Every conflict you have with every different person is new data, because you might handle conflict really well with your dad. You might handle it really poorly with your mother. We tend to find that the same gender parent doesn't become the best mentor in family business. Doesn't mean they can't teach, but because there's something about that same-gender relationship and expectations being on them, so that you got really good at conflicting with your parents now, which is what we call maturation. It's the goal of adult development. Doesn't mean that the time that you're with your siblings, you're going to be perfect.

Here are just some techniques for dealing with conflict in the moment. Holding your thumb is often way to ground, some people pinch themselves, practicing your breathing, the Navy seal four box models, a really simple one, and no one will know you're doing it. In speaking, really listen. Research shows that people who are poor listeners feel like they haven't been heard. Sometimes the best step is to just listen to the person who's talking. Mirroring means repeating what they say exactly as they say it. Not summarizing the metaphor like the orange metaphor I talked about, really helps people get into the motor cortex of their brain to be able to take an idea and put it into action. It also helps you engage that steady state and change agent part of your brain, because it's something new like the information from the metaphor and a format that we know.

It's also why poems are really powerful. Fables or Aesop's fables and the twigs you can talk about as a governance metaphor. Storytelling, our ears actually perk up when we hear personal stories. It's no accident that we were wired for gossip and really allowing open-ended questions. Act as though you do not know the answer, even though we do think we know the answer with our siblings. Then silence. I mentioned how there are two paces for people, and sometimes the people who like to talk a lot, you're just waiting, makes them go deeper, makes them go further. It helps them actually cogitate, think with you. In fact, most extroverts need someone to think with. For those, the people in the family that are introverted, it allows them the time and the space to process the question, to think about what's going on.

You've all seen this with everything. We have to this image for culture. We have this image for a myriad of reasons. It's why I like conflict, because by the time you're hitting the iceberg, you're already sunk. The little bits that you're hearing, the spits, the spats, the things that aren't that important, aren't that frequent, really do lead to something a lot bigger, and so addressing them early, mapping out where they are so they can be avoided or resolved completely. My father was a submariner, and believe it or not, I think it's three submarines a year, still running into icebergs with all the tech that we have. My dad's never did. He was a very effective commander. It's not to say that the people who run into icebergs are bad people. It's that they are growing, they are changing and they're really hard to get your arms around.

Then I want to use this live client example. I wrote a longer article on this at one website called Values Walks. You can just Google my name and values walks to see it. But I mentioned there are values that underlie our behaviors and they're not the same, and they're almost never seen. You have to genuinely communicate them. People have to communicate them as individuals before they do so as a group, because of that whole interdependence thing and that inertia that family companies have. This was a beautiful family, I loved meeting them, they're wonderful. They had decent amount of wealth, a hundred million dollars. They decided to do some estate planning, gave both of their children some money. Trust was, I don't know, $60,000 a year, nothing to drive home about. I wouldn't say no to it, but it wasn't what they thought was life-changing money. They had two children and the one son was a banker, kept on doing what he does.

The other child, however, was a designer, a very good designer, but designers don't make a lot of money and decided to actually quit her job, start living off that trust. Why not? Slash their budget, because she used to make $80,000 instead of $60,000. They slashed the budget, lived within this really meager means. The parents were just furious. They were so upset because they've been hardworking people. They're another nice Southern family, boot strappers, you name it, all the money they had was really built on their own.

I went and did interviews with the family, asked questions and figured out at the end, based on all the words they said that they had similar values. Contribution, community, and connection. Contribution, community, and connection for all of them. I was like, "Well, that's really interesting." Their values are the same. Those were their exact words they used, I didn't change them. Their motivators were different. We did the assessments to figure out. There was tradition in two and three. There was societal in three, individual in the two children. The individualistic means I want to do it my own way. Tradition means keep things the same. Societal means I care about society. Sorry, it was the son.

What their beliefs were is work is contribution. Mom and dad said that. Jane said work and volunteering is contribution. Steve said contribution is based on a level of effort. What the behaviors were is they both, mom and dad and the daughter, worked and volunteered. The son, I mentioned the daughter before, it was actually son. The son just decided to do pro bono projects. He is still a designer to this day, working with a bunch of local not-for-profits in the area, and he believes he's still contributing. In fact, the whole family does.

We spent a lot of time with this family working. They're a lovely family and they all agreed that now that they understood it, it really was connection, because in their mind trust funds were the worst thing in the world. Not all of our adult children will be blessed to follow the same path that we do, nor do they have to. Most of you have made it, so that your adult children can do things differently than you. Maybe they work a few less hours, maybe they partner together to be the leaders of the company so they don't have to do it on their own. I don't know what that'll be, but most of these conflicts, when you really examine them, examine the interests, examine the values, we're not as far apart as we might seem, although the language we use to talk about them really is very polarizing, and I think intentionally so.

Any other questions? We have another five minutes or so before this ends. Conflicts you've seen. Great. The last thing I'll say as I give you your time back as we end here is, conflict really is the beginning of very productive conversations in most cases, because we're protecting what we care about and people are using the muscle of either assertiveness or aggressiveness, and both of those are doing the same thing. They're actually expressing what they need to and in a family company, that's really important.

You have people who take over the business because they think they should versus they actually want to. You have people who don't want an external president or CEO, because they think that's what mom or dad wants, even though they know someone else might be better equipped to be at the helm and they could be the vice president. These uncommunicated and unmet expectations, which about the 90% of our communication expectations go uncommunicated, are the source of so many of these issues of conflict that we don't really realize that we're setting ourselves up for in some ways. Astrid, I don't see any questions. We can probably close the webinar.

Transcribed by

What's on Your Mind?

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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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