family conflict
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict …” ― Dorothy Thompson

Ideally, our family is a reliable place of safety and acceptance. However, all families have their ups and downs. When family conflict arises it is often de-stablizing. Creative professional involvement can really help.  I recall the words of my client when relating the blow up he had with his son and daughter-in-law. “I haven’t been able to think of anything else.”

In my work it’s interesting how sometimes I get a ‘run’ on particular sorts of issues. Recently I have had the privilege of working with a number of client families with inheritance issues after the death of a parent or problems around running a family business. I’m now reflecting on why these have been particularly satisfying client engagements.

Factored into my reflections is my pride and delight at having received, in December 2014, a LEADR practitioner award for significant contribution to Dispute Resolution (DR) for  ‘Creative Adaptation of DR to meet specific needs’. So how have I used  creative adaptation to help these families in distress?

People are all individual and despite common family interests and a common background, I notice how family members often perceive events very differently. When something unplanned happens, our perceptions contribute to how we respond. Differences in perception are part of the family conflict picture. They often lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. This in turn creates tensions which can damage what once was a shared love and caring between family members.

To help a family restore a respectful and supportive relationship, I begin by communicating separately with each family member. This is creative work. It means recognising and acknowledging each individual’s perceptions and needs. This process often puts people in touch with what they themselves want. The confusion, stress and hurt of a family in turmoil often means people are on the defensive and they focus on what others are doing wrong, not what they themselves want. Grief over the loss of a loved parent can further complicate the emotional dynamics.

More adaptation is required when bringing the family together. The reserved among the group need encouragement to put their points forward, while the more outspoken may need some respectful restraint. This can, in effect, turn around the established family dynamic where one person may be used to doing most of the talking while others listen (or maybe have stopped listening years ago). Families who are used to ‘discussions’ framed as shouting matches need some firm guidelines administered with sensitivity and maybe humour.

As a facilitator I dance with the complex family dynamics to help people communicate authentically. While there is a focus on decisions around the issues at hand, my primary aim is to assist the family to develop a framework for having more constructive discussions in the future. It’s very fulfilling when this happens and it feels like creative work. I thank my clients for this.


  1. Comment by Gerry Hendriksen on Friday January 2015 @ 1:40 pm

    Importance of authentic family dynamics very well explained.

  2. Comment by jennilfer lawson on Thursday February 2015 @ 4:04 pm

    Fascinating work – & heaps of congratulations for your award. So marvellous that you can handle this with such aplomb…Keep up the great work! ps your cards in the mail -finally !

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