I recently wrote a chapter on the role mediators can play in family business transitions, published in Susan Gary (ed.), Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict. The chapter looks at the sources of conflict in family businesses and how mediators and other conflict professionals might help. It then examines, however, the various reasons that family members may not want to turn to a mediator: they may not want to admit that a “dispute” exists; the family business transition may be gradual, whereas most conflict interventions are acute; the family may not want a “neutral,” instead seeking a professional that is more interventionist or that more often offers an opinion.
The chapter then goes on, however, to argue that conflict engagement professionals have a range of skills and techniques that can still be extremely helpful to business families, even if not through traditional conflict management roles such as mediation. These include listening, empathy, and perspective-taking; problem-solving and decision-making; the promotion of collaboration; dispute system design; and consensus building. Conflict engagement professionals can deploy these skills in family businesses in a variety of ways, moving outside of traditional conflict management roles into new ways of engaging with business families.