Solve Conflicts

Clarify the sibling relationship

The relationships with brothers and sisters are particularly deep, but at the same time often accompanied by rivalry, injuries and entanglements that have a long-lasting effect. Therefore, resolving conflicts with siblings is often a significant precondition of successful succession planning in family businesses.

In this article you will learn how to clarify relationships with siblings.

Succession Planning: Relationship to brother or sister

Principles of Relationship Clarification

The relationships in the parental home accompany us in our lives. Often they are a blueprint for later relationships. At the same time, slights and conflicts have a long-lasting effect. In addition there may be a long history of working together in the family business.

When resolving a conflict, inner clearing often precedes outer clearing. This means that the change in one’s own idea of ​​the brother or sister is often the prerequisite for clarification of the actual relationship.

This is especially important in relationships where there is a lot of emotional baggage from the past. In current relationships, e.g. at work, it is often possible to look for clarification on the outside and if this is successful, there is often direct relief.

The long-standing family ballast makes communication difficult. Therefore, it is important to have inner clarity first. After that, it is often easier to resolve the conflict.

Step 1

Inner Clarity

  • Clarify perception
  • Awareness of the relationship
  • Processing old emotions / forgiveness
  • Develop clarity about your own needs.
Step 2

Clear Roles / Solve Conflicts

  • Clarify areas of responsibility and roles in the family and in the family business
  • Resolving current conflicts
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Analyse and improve communication patterns
Step 3

Relationship at Eye Level

  • Fulfilling the roles in the company
  • Take on one’s own responsibility
  • Mindfulness of mutual boundaries
  • Non-interference in personal affairs
  • Negotiation of mutual needs

Steps to Clarification

Inner Clarity

Clarify perception

  • Realistic perception of the other person is the prerequisite for relationship clarification
  • This perception can be well supported in coaching with NLP techniques such as position 1-2-3.

Awareness of the relationship

  • For this purpose, the multiple, conscious working through of specific questions (see below) is a good idea. This is about clearly separating current conflicts from the past. This makes processing possible.
  • This step can be done well in self-coaching with pen and paper – for example, regularly thinking through these topics when keeping a diary is a good idea.
  • This step can be very well supported by systemic coaching.

Processing old emotions / forgiveness

  • Life-history injuries often lead to a “backpack” of old emotions. These then have an effect on the present and often lead to old patterns being repeated. The goal is to meet the challenges of the present.
  • The emotional processing can be well supported by working with a sensitive coach or therapist.

Clarify your own needs

  • Clarifying your own needs is often a prerequisite for being able to represent them effectively.

Clarify the Actual Current Relationship

Clarification of areas of responsibility and roles in the family of origin and in the family business

  • This is about clarifying roles. Who takes care of what?
  • It is important to make clear and explicit agreements about strategy, procedures, specific areas of responsibility and the division of labor.
  • Explicit agreements are often more important than in non-family companies, since the sibling relationship and relationships with other family members often override the typical organisational understanding of roles.

Resolve current conflicts

  • This is about addressing the actual conflicts and solving them as far as possible.
  • It may be a matter of accepting that there is no common denominator. The aim is to keep your heart open even when there are differences.
  • As far as sibling rivalry is the basis, it is important to identify how the competitive impulse can be used positively for the entire company without fighting each other. The separation of areas of responsibility often makes sense for this.

Set clear boundaries

  • In this phase, both parties are asked to set their boundaries and communicate them to each other.
  • Conflicts can arise when the boundary violations become conscious.
  • Example: Sometimes conflicts are caused by brothers interfering or giving advice in each other’s affairs with the best of intentions. This can also be a boundary violation.

Analyse and improve communication patterns

  • This is about analyzing the current communication patterns and developing strategies to improve them.
  • The insights of transactional analysis, for example, can be helpful for this and can be used in the coaching process.

Relationship at Eye-Level

Fulfilling the roles in the company – taking on one’s own responsibility

  • Here it is important to take on the agreed responsibility and to fulfill one’s own role.
  • As adults, the siblings are equal, i.e. roles should be characterised (as in any other business) by organisational roles and areas of responsibility, agreements, competence and activity – and not by sibling order and age difference.
  • Individual actions do not require agreement if there is a fundamentally clear understanding of roles.
  • In edge cases, coordination should be sought proactively.

Mindfulness of mutual boundaries and non-interference

  • Here it is important to stay out of the affairs of the other person. It is important not to feel responsible for the other person (as you might have been used to in childhood) and not to interfere without being asked or even against the other person’s will.
  • Non-interference applies in particular to personal matters. The following applies here: Advice can also hurt and it is often better to hold back here.
  • This lays the basis for being able to ask for help and at the same time to support the other person – if and to the extent desired.

Negotiation of mutual needs

  • All siblings have current needs and preferences. These can be very different and often relate to the extent and type of contact desired.
  • As adults, the needs are of equal importance, i.e. no longer determined by sibling order and age difference.


Raise awareness of the relationship

The first step towards inner clarification is to become aware of your own life story in relation to your brother or sister and to become aware of the emotions associated with it.

The first step is often to write it down. Preferably in a notebook with a pen. The following questions can be used as guiding questions.

Clarify the Past

  • What went wrong between us
  • What am I accusing my brother/sister of?
  • What is my brother/sister accusing me of?
  • What do I blame myself for in relation to my brother/sister?
  • Where have I interfered without being asked?
  • Where did he/she interfere without being asked?
  • What did my brother/sister carry for me?
  • What went well?
  • What good has my brother/sister done for me?
  • What am I grateful to my brother/sister for?
  • What could I forgive my sibling / myself?
  • Where should I ask for forgiveness?

Clarifying the Present

  • What emotions does my brother / my sister trigger in me?
  • What can my brother / my sister help me with today?
  • Where is setting clear boundaries required?
  • Which burdens do we carry together?
  • What do I need from him/her?
  • What else does he/she need from me? (Only things I was specifically asked for!)

Shaping the Future

  • What steps can I take to clarify current issues with him?
  • What joint activities would you like to do?

Finding a Good Connection to the Heritage

  • Who gets what?
  • What are gifts and what are burdens?
  • How can I find a good reference to gifts and burdens?
  • How can I accept the distribution of the inheritance, even though it may not be perceived as fair?

Role Clarification in the Company

  • Who is responsible for what?
  • What specific roles do I have internally (between siblings or in the family) and externally (e.g. when communicating with employees)
  • How is it ensured that agreements are also implemented?