Kenneth Kaye

The Authority on Distrust and Severe Business Conflict


When is it resolvable, and how?

If constructive business relationships are impossible, how can we end chronic conflict without destroying the family?

Ken Kaye’s award-winning article in Family Business Review entitled “Penetrating the Cycle of Sustained Conflict” is often quoted and has been reprinted several times in collections of essential resources for family business owners and advisors. In that article and many shorter ones, Ken explains that conflicts with families are unlike those that occur between unrelated parties. The latter want to settle their dispute and have nothing further to do with each other; whereas the aim of family dispute resolution is to have better future relationships.

Ken’s 1994 book Workplace Wars and How to End Them describes our systematic approach to resolving conflict in groups of people who need to improve their working relationships. Chapter 7 explains that a Conflict Resolving System is an essential part of team building. When families, organizations, or small work teams are confident that they know how to address conflict constructively, it’s a positive opportunity for change. Our job is not just to eliminate conflict from our clients’ lives. It is to change the organizational culture so that future conflicts are resolved without our help.

We start by exploring which goals are shared, which goals are unique to different members but are not incompatible, and which ones are really conflicting goals. The next phase is to clear up misunderstandings, practice active listening, and find any differences among team members which ought to be strengths (complementary skills or diverse points of view) as opposed to genuine problems. Then we take up the challenge of shifting people away from mutual blaming and on to a commitment to change their own behavior. More often than not, those changes require being more explicit about what they depend on one another to do, and about what’s needed in order to move up the trusting/trustworthy learning curve for succession to roles of responsibility and authority.

A fourth phase becomes necessary if people are stuck: either unable to make good on their commitments or unwilling to take the risk. Finally (and, frankly, sometimes as the last resort), we’ll coach individuals in what they can do unilaterally, without waiting for their teammates or family members to change.

Virtually all our engagements involve a combination of individual interviews, full-team retreats, and small-group problem-solving sessions. Sometimes it’s also worth using informal indicators such as the Myers-Briggs or more elaborate testing, either to understand an individual’s difficulties or to serve as a springboard for group self-assessment.

Read about a specific example of conflict resolution in a family financial office.

Take a look at Ken’s article, Conflict as Opportunity for Change.

Follow a link to browse Ken’s book (2005), The Dynamics of Family Business, online.

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