Address Conflict Head-On

February 6, 2018 02:22 PM
When to talk, who to include and what to discuss when tension is high

Conflict and business often go hand in hand, but when business partners are parents, siblings or children—as is often the case in farming—discord needs to be addressed immediately. Navigating conversations about daily tasks, the future of the farm and everything in between can be a challenge, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to communicate.

Timing is everything when it comes to addressing conflict. “Talk as soon as possible after the problem arises,” says Carolyn Rodenberg, owner and founder of Alternatives to Conflict. “When you delay talking about the problem, people start building coalitions, anger and frustrations build and then it gets attached to other issues.”

To create the best opportunity for a constructive discussion about conflict with your family or team, you must find the right time and location to talk.

“Conflict shouldn’t be addressed when you’re on the run,” Rodenberg says. “Set a specific time to talk at a neutral location.”

“When you discuss conflict at the right time and location, everybody has a chance to back away from the issue for a minute, get themselves under control, really think about what do they want to say and what they want the outcome to be,” says Rena Striegel, president of Transition Point Business Advisors. “Obviously, we’re not our best when we’re highly stressed, angry or emotional.”

Conversations must be with others and not about others, so include all family members who are involved with the operation. “Don’t ever underestimate the power of someone who’s left out of the conversation,” Striegel says. “It’s far better for him or her to be involved than left out.”

After agreeing on ground rules for the meeting, your goals should be to:

  • Define the problem.
  • Discuss the underlying cause.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Select the best option.

Each one of these steps should be done together as a group, not with one or two people, Rodenberg says.

Truly listen to what each person says during the meeting. “Do lots of repeating,” Striegel says. “Pause for a moment and say, ‘Let me tell you what I think I heard.’ Allow them to verify that is what they meant to say.”

Conflict, by nature, can damage relationships or make people uncomfortable. If you can’t begin the conversation without the fear of hurting or angering someone, Striegel suggests bringing in a professional to help. “A third party, anyone from a banker to a pastor, can be impartial,” she says. “There’s a lot of different people we can use to help us become more effective in our communication.”

How to Avoid Conflict

Conflict can often be avoided by addressing the following matters:

  • Are there clear boundaries between business relationships and family relationships?
  • Are conversations framed as “parent and child” rather than “owner and owner” or “employee and employer?”
  • Is there lack of agreement on how the business should be run?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clarified?
  • Are promises and expectations assumed and not expressed?
  • Are conversations among family members about people rather than with people?
  • Are misunderstandings avoided and not clarified at the time they occur?
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