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What you can do now to prevent conflict on the farm

  • 2.5 min read

Conflict is part of everyday life. Sometimes it’s relatively minor and easy to handle, but other times, a more deliberate resolution strategy is required. Either way, how farm business managers deal with conflict can dictate the attitude and approach to handling disagreements within the operation.

Most people don’t know how to address conflict, so they avoid it or ignore it, which causes issues to fester.

Richard Moore, founder of MDR Associates Conflict Resolution Inc. in Ottawa, Ont., knows conflict can be a barrier but says it can also be an opportunity to engage and understand what is important to those involved.

“Most people don’t know how to address conflict, so they avoid it or ignore it, which causes issues to fester,” Moore says. “We should be looking at differing views as an opportunity to come up with better, long-lasting solutions.”

Communication is key

After 30 years as a mediator, consultant and coach, Moore stresses that most conflict boils down to poor communication.

Therefore, conflict management needs effective communication and the willingness of all parties involved to work through the issues.  

His top management tip: conflict is easier to prevent than to resolve.

“Engaging with people well, on a continual basis, prevents conflict, so it’s important for managers to talk to partners,” Moore says.

Use mediation techniques

Disagreement typically begins when a problem arises, and one person’s solution differs from that of another person.

Early identification of potential conflict is the ideal time to initiate dialogue rather than try to solve it. Moore recommends using these mediation skills to start the conversation:

  • Adjust your mental attitude. It’s important to enter dialogue without prejudgments. Be open and curious. Avoid assumptions.
  • Ask good questions. The conversation should involve asking the other person questions about how they view the situation. Ask them to expand their perspective.
  • Listen. Allow the other person adequate speaking time without interruption. Actively listening to their answers is crucial to understanding their viewpoints and emotions.

Reverse roles and repeat the conversation so both parties can ask questions and share perspective.

“This process opens up a conversation so that both people get a fuller picture of the situation – and that’s really important,” says Moore.

The dialogue also provides validation and a deeper understanding of the problem. As well, new information could result in an even better solution to the issue.

Farm managers can also watch for warning signs that conflict is beginning, such as reduced engagement, less chatting and frustrated or angry behaviour. Conflict excluding management can be signalled by strained communication between employees and tense body language.

Ask for support

Business advisors skilled in mediation can provide objective views and facilitate communication, including helping everyone prepare for tough conversations about the ongoing conflict. But this doesn’t mean external resources will always be needed – sometimes, a few facilitated sessions help managers sharpen their conflict communication skills that they can use moving forward.

Bottom line

Good communication among farm managers and staff can help prevent conflict before it arises, experts say, and help resolve conflict if it does occur. Watch for signs that conflict may be brewing, such as tension, reduced conversation or engagement or frustrated behaviour. If talking through the conflict doesn’t resolve the issue, it may be time to bring a professional mediator to help staff work towards a resolution. 

Article by: Rebecca Hannam