In my article last month, I intricately explored the dynamics of leadership styles and the strategic competition unfolding between siblings Aimee and Allan. Our timely intervention proved instrumental in addressing the conflict at its core, addressing critical aspects such as succession planning, strategic alignment, and the clarification of roles and levels of authority. There was less emotion-based conflict.

Shifting the focus to a different facet, last week's piece delved into conflicts stemming from childhood issues. This shift brought a unique set of challenges to the forefront, adding layers of intricacy to their resolution. The discord among Farah, Frank Jr., and Fiona, culminating in the compelled sale of the family business and the eventual demise of the enterprise established by their father, serves as a poignant illustration of the inherent vulnerability in family businesses. These conflicts have deep-seated roots in emotional and psychological dimensions, introducing complexities that warrant thoughtful examination. 

Several factors contribute to the difficulty of resolving sibling conflicts tied to childhood issues.

Emotional Baggage

Childhood experiences bring solid feelings and deeply ingrained behaviors. When they enter the family business, siblings might carry emotional baggage from their past, making it hard to deal with conflicts reasonably and logically. The emotions linked to childhood memories can make finding solutions more challenging. 

Longstanding Patterns

Conflicts from childhood, especially between Farah and Frank Jr., often come from habits of how siblings interact and talk to each other. These habits become deep-rooted and shape how siblings relate. Changing these established ways of interacting is challenging and needs a conscious effort to reshape them. 

Unconscious Dynamics

Many childhood issues affect behavior and reactions without full awareness. Siblings may not fully understand what's driving their conflicts, making it difficult to solve them. It complicates finding solutions when the reasons aren't clear until one day, in a meeting, one sibling implodes and reacts irrationally. I have seen many "boardroom dramas" where siblings lose their cool for no apparent reason.

Role Identity

Siblings often take on specific roles in the family when they're young, shaping who they are. Breaking free from these roles and interacting in more flexible ways is tough. The struggle to change roles and expectations can get in the way of solving conflicts.

Lack of Perspective 

Conflicts can persist because siblings don't understand or feel what the other is going through. Siblings may be stuck in their own viewpoints; for Frank Jr., he resonated with what his dad used to do and insisted that the decisions should stay the way "what dad would have done," thus making it hard to find common ground and work through conflicts.

Limited Communication Skills

Childhood issues can lead to poor communication habits. In my experience, 2 out of 10 families and their offspring find it hard to express themselves, listen, or positively share needs and concerns. Getting better at communication is crucial for resolving conflicts. That is why we always assert the need to enforce the activation of the family council so issues are discussed formally and deliberately, a departure from the informal approach that "papa or mama used to do.

Ingrained Beliefs

Beliefs formed in childhood, like ideas of fairness or loyalty, can stick around. These beliefs shape how siblings see and react to conflicts, making it challenging to find the middle ground.

To be continued...

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On February 3, 2024, W+B will be featuring accomplished family business successors Jose Franco Soberano and Sam Christopher Lim, Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli’s Mr. Ube himself, Gerie Chua, and family legacy coach and advisor Steve Legler from TSI Heritage in Canada, along with myself in a webinar that will jumpstart the year for every family business.

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