Resolving Conflicts in Family Business – Lessons from the Janes

Written by: Jon Kenfield on Friday, May 27th, 2016

Bob Jane’s Family Feud

“For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26-28)

 Bob Jane was an Australian icon – a revered racing driver, entrepreneur  businessman and multi-millionaire – a classic self-made success story.

But where is he now?  After 5 years of litigation he’s potentially homeless after a court has ordered him to pay debts of almost $1M to his son Rodney – the very same son who took over his $100M business empire and has even tried to put him in jail for contempt of court.

What else?  Well, the Old Bull accuses the Young of destroying the business he’d run successfully for over 40 years.

How low can a family fall?  How many others have similarly fallen?  Not always so openly and viciously, but fallen nonetheless.

Could it have been prevented?  Yes.  Almost every family dispute grows from a small seed that could have become something quite different, many times over, as it developed.  And of course, the earlier such things are addressed, the easier they are to resolve.

Resolving disputes and conflicts, especially emotion-laden ones involving families and partnerships, requires accurate diagnosis of causes before any attempt is made to address the symptoms – otherwise any attempt at resolution is unlikely to succeed, at least over the longer term.

Such a diagnosis requires time being spent up front to:  (a) discover what’s driving each of the key individuals;  (b) create at least some level of trust and (c) generate some hope of salvation before anybody tries to resolve any of the problems.

It’s very hard for any family member to re-build trust within the family once it’s departed, and those who try often get severely burned for their efforts.  This is where an external (disposable!) adviser may be able to help.

The diagnostic / preparatory process requires more than “simple” factfinding interviews.  When problems run long and deep (emotional baggage) they may need personal de-briefs and narrative (life story) therapeutic sessions;  assisted self-reflection;  resilience and communication coaching, and even formal psychological interventions.

Process stages are:

1. Diagnose and assess (people and circumstances)
2. Consider (information gathered)
3. Plan (process and people required)
4. Emotional therapy and repair
5. Preparation for workout
6. Develop Solutions.

Then solutions are more likely to be deep, lasting and have broader positive implications for the entire family.

There are no silver bullets for most family feuds and conflicts (even if a stake through the heart feels like the best solution at times), but a properly staged approach, using collaborative professionals at the right times and in the right ways, maximizes the likelihood of good outcomes.       

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