Managing Disputes and Avoiding Conflict in a Family Enterprise

Using COVID-19 vaccination disagreements to highlight dispute resolution approaches

Byline: Rikk Larsen

Read time: 3-4 minutes

As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to roll out across the country, most companies are beginning to develop protocols for returning to work in person. While for many this is great news, this can be particularly challenging for family businesses with family members and non-family employees who have conflicting perspectives on the concept of vaccines. This blog will highlight methods family businesses can use to manage disputes regarding the vaccine and what to do if there’s an underlying conflict involved.

Is this a dispute or a conflict?

Vaccine hesitancy versus advocacy can be simple disagreements in the understanding and weighing of information or can reveal a more serious problem of incompatible values. In our highly polarized world, one’s view regarding vaccines may be tied to political and social views which have split families and friends for the past several years. When this happens in a family business, it is crucial to forge alignment in both the short and long term. A combination of conflict management approaches is required.

If the issue of vaccination is believed to be systemic and related to a stakeholder’s core beliefs and worldview, there’s likely a larger conflict at play that needs to be addressed. If there are serious incompatible values among the ownership group, handling the vaccination issue in isolation, as an individual dispute, will only further impact the business’s functioning and the family’s relationships. If, on the other hand, the issue of vaccination is just a simple disagreement on this one topic, there are additional choices for managing conflict.

Managing a vaccination dispute


One solution to managing a dispute around the vaccination is negotiating something. What will it take for those who are vaccine-hesitant to get vaccinated or to agree to a mandatory vaccination policy for workers? Take the time to hear their concerns and what would help change their minds. For example, if they’re concerned that it’ll be difficult to find an appointment, you may consider contracting a company to provide the vaccines onsite. If they’re worried about getting symptoms after the shot, offer an extra paid vacation day or additional time off.

If a family member or other employee is morally opposed to getting or mandating the vaccine, you may agree to put out a statement honoring the beliefs of those that are hesitant, stating that you will make exceptions for religious and health reasons and provide alternative solutions (i.e. if you work from home, you’re not required to get vaccinated).

One way to learn what everyone is willing to negotiate on is through an interest-based dispute resolution technique called consensus building. This process puts the responsibility for moving ahead (or not) with a particular course of action on each individual in the minority position. For any given option supported by most members of the group, a dissenting party must articulate how that option would need to change to be acceptable to him or her. Through a process of give and take, the group continues to refine their proposals until all can buy into a solution. This process involves considerable time and effort from all involved and enables groups to move forward without alienating any parties, leaving everyone feeling heard and fairly treated.

Use of power

Failure to achieve a solution in a timely manner could mean it’s time to force a solution. Your business most likely has (or should have) a process in place for determining who is in charge to make these types of decisions—whether it’s the board of directors or the CEO. If there is an owner’s or family council, they might discuss and send a recommendation to the board for a decision. Regardless of whom the decision falls upon, these decision-makers do have the right to force a decision one way or the other. Doing so may trigger additional conflict in the family, so care must be taken to exert power in a way that seems fair and legitimate.

In order for these decision-makers to make the best decision possible, it can help to bring in outside parties for further research or education. Research and education may be as simple as polling employees or other members of leadership to gain insight into their opinions, or it may mean calling in experts or empowering a committee to do research. Regardless of your stance, presenting all sides of an argument to the decision-makers will ensure that employees and family members feel represented and heard.

How we can help
If you believe your family’s disagreement regarding the COVID-19 vaccination or any other issue is systemic and deep-rooted, it’s crucial to address those underlying issues to avoid future conflict. Continuity Family Business Consulting is the leader in managing family business conflict and conflict in affluent families. Contact us today to learn how we can help family businesses manage conflict, including disputes over the COVID-19 vaccine.