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Family Business

Mutual Acceptance Of Roles

The mutual acceptance of roles is the extent to which family members accept their own and others' relative levels of involvement (Barach 1984; Crane 1982; Post 1993; Sharma 1997; Ward 1988). Involvement means mutual acceptance of the amount of control associated with each family member's role. Research has shown that the family members' mutual acceptance of individual roles is positively related to perceived family harmony (Handler, 1989). Roles can be defined by the number of heirs in line for succession (Bork 1986; Rutigliano 1986; Scranton 1992), the relative position of each heir in the family and the business (Barnes 1988; Kaye 1992), and the clarification of roles and responsibilities of family members in the context of the business (Handler 1989; Rosenberg 1991). For example, due to birth order older siblings with more experience in the family business may hold managerial positions in the firm expecting to be in line as successor to the enterprise, while younger siblings who have gone to college to obtain knowledge badly needed by the enterprise may expect to take over the business. If family members do not mutually accept their and others' roles within the business, they may attempt to undermine the efforts of others in order to achieve what they perceive to be a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn may slow decision making regarding the succession process (Dyer 1986). Thus, managing perception during conflict regarding the mutual acceptance of roles is of key importance to each family business member's satisfaction.

Conflict over the mutual acceptance of roles is also an opportunity to enhance mutual respect, trust, and understanding among family members. In the conflict between the younger and older siblings vying for the role of successor, the incumbent can view disagreements as opportunities for siblings to learn from one another (developing their relationships), exchange information that will enhance the business for all (everyone brings necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to the table), and create respect for what each sibling has to offer the family business without privileging one experience over the other. Thus, managing conflict effectively means viewing disagreements as opportunities rather than threats, and seeing conflict as an opportunity to learn rather than the destruction of important family relationships. Opportunity is an important view of conflict because when the aforementioned relational features are present in the family business (e.g. mutual respect, trust, and understanding) the level of satisfaction with decision outcomes increases (Dyer 1986; Sharma 1997). Family business members need to be sensitive to the mutual acceptance of roles during the succession process, and utilize disagreements and conflict as a means to clarify perceptions of incompatibility, negotiate the amount of influence each family member has in the business relationship, and promote win-win, mutually satisfying relationships.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Business - Mutual Acceptance Of Roles, Agreement To Continue The Business, Propensity Of A Successor To Take Over