How to Handle Conflict with Siblings at Work

siblings“We’re all in the family business, just in different roles”, says Tom Selleck to his fictional family on the TV show “Blue Bloods” where he plays the Police Commissioner of New York City.  I’m not particularly drawn to the crime stories, in the show, but the family at the center of the police force, and the way they handle their relationships while protecting New York City always pulls me in.

One of the Commissioner’s sons is a detective on the force, one is a “street cop”, and his daughter is a lawyer in the district attorney’s office.  They are all committed to justice, but at times their roles and professional viewpoints clash.

In a recent episode a police officer was shot.  The detective moved quickly to arrest a suspect and his brother supported his fast work.  The daughter, however, refused to move the case forward without clear evidence that the suspect had actually committed the crime.

The conflict between the siblings, intensified by their commitment to doing their jobs well, was at the heart of the story.

It’s probably at the heart of your story, too.  The way that siblings figure out how to handle their professional differences at work is vital to the success of a family business.

So here are some suggestions for you as work with your siblings, whether you are running a chain of restaurants, managing a law firm, building new homes-or even fighting crime:

1. Ask

When siblings enter the family business, it’s likely that they have been away from each other for several years before joining it.  It’s important to get reacquainted with each other as adults.

Ask your brother or sister what motivates them to work in the family business.  Find out what they really like to do, and how they like to do it.  You might be surprised by what you learn.  And your sibling will probably appreciate your interest.

2. Share

Share your job description with your sibling.  Explain what goes into your role.  As an example, if you’re in charge of HR, talk about the HR profession, the practices, ethics, and laws that guide it, etc.  Giving the background for your professional recommendations may help to alleviate conflicts.

If you don’t yet have a formal role, ask your sibling to help you define one.  What does the business need?  How might your skills fit that need?  Perhaps you and your sibling can jointly present a proposal to your boss-be it a parent, another relative, or a non-family executive.

When you and your siblings act as partners, your teamwork strengthens the entire business.

3. Separate

Do your best to separate the professional from the personal.  Disagreements are important at work-in any setting-because learning from diverse points of view is often essential to good decision-making. The challenge for you is to respect your siblings’ roles, apart from your relationships outside of work.  An older brother can learn from a younger sister, and vice versa.

Check out Making Sibling Teams Work:  The Next Generation, by Craig E. Aronoff.  It’s a great resource for you and your family.

You may find that as you and your siblings disagree about important issues at work, the more you and your siblings will develop respect for each other.  And make better decisions, after considering several points of view.  That can only be good for business-and for you.

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