Navigating conflict is a first step to successful family legacy

Addressing Conflict for Successful Family Legacy

Addressing Conflict for Successful Family Legacy

by Bill High

I recently taught a workshop on navigating conflict at the Southeast Family Office Forum. Addressing conflict in the family is one of the first steps on the journey to a successful family legacy.

Teaching the seminar reminded me again how important it is to remember the principles of successful family. One of those principles is to first ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of family?”

Too often, we’ve allowed our culture to define family and its purpose. In 1962, Del Webb made it on the cover of an issue of Time magazine. Why? For his creation of the retirement community. He espoused the idea, “You’ve worked hard all your life, now it’s your time to relax, play golf and focus on me.”

If we realize that family was meant to be multi-generational, we stay in the game. We stay committed. And one of those key areas we stay committed is in the area of communication.


Conflict and Family Communication

Put differently, I’m afraid that we treat family conflict as an isolated event. It comes upon us suddenly, and so we sweep it under the rug and pretend it never existed, or we deal with it swiftly and put it behind us.

But conflict is not just an event. It’s part of a journey. It happens over time. It evolves. In fact, it is often the result of always sweeping things under the rug, until the lump under the rug is so huge that we can’t help but stumble over it.

That’s the first step of navigating family conflict. To recognize that we are not dealing with a single isolated event, but instead we are dealing with a system, a way we’ve developed of handling our family communication. By recognizing flaws in the system, we can begin to address the larger issues of conflict within the family—whether spoken or unspoken.


Own Your Story

Unfortunately, in the area of family conflict, most of us prefer to avoid conflict and keep up the appearance of a “happy family.” When conflict occurs, we tend to want to take an Advil, a pain pill to make it go away—and quickly.

But the process of unwinding conflict takes time and understanding. It takes patience to diagnose how the family came to be at that spot. For some, it is easier to back away, to assume that retreat is less painful than dealing with the conflict.

So, here’s a second key principle, this one addressing that impulse to retreat: It’s your family, and it will always be your family. Even if you go into retreat mode, they’ll still be your family. You can’t separate yourself from the story into which you were born and with which you’ve interacted.

I see families who experience “family envy.” They look around and see other “perfect families” and wish they could be like that. But there are no perfect families. Instead, we all need to accept the fact that this is your story, your family—it’s what you’ve got. When we acknowledge that fact, it allows us to dig in, bear down and work at the story we’ve got and address that proverbial lump under the rug.

Own your own story, even when that means addressing conflict. These are the first keys to successful family legacy.



Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

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Published November 18, 2019

Topics: Family Legacy

Family CommunicationFamily LegacyStory

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