I’ve had the pleasant opportunity to spend time on two multi-generational outfits the past couple of weeks. These are large, extensive operations run by good families with deep roots in agriculture.
Not only are they good producers, they are good people. And the upcoming generation is committed to the operation and to agriculture. But even in the best of situations, conflict is likely to happen. It may between generations on the operation, or it may be between family members who have a family and emotional investment in the outfit but live and work elsewhere.
In short, conflict is inevitable. It will occur. It is part of life to have conflict – and certainly part of family life. Yet, very seldom are family members skilled at handling conflict. Most would prefer to avoid it at all costs. Conflict in families arises in situations in which there are incompatible goals, emotional walls or misaligned expectations, according to SKM Associates.
Avoiding it does not make it go away. The emotional baggage follows whether the conflict is addressed or not. Managing conflict is a difficult skill that does not come naturally, but it is a necessary skill that can be learned.
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The effect of conflict can be either positive or negative, SKM says. The outcome depends on how the conflict is managed. Negative conflict is dysfunctional and hinders the ability of the individual, the family, and the business to attain unity, to make forward progress, and to meet objectives. Positive conflict resolution leads to better decisions, to increased creativity, to enhanced interpersonal relationships, to value clarification, and to personal growth and change.
Knowing what causes conflict is only half the battle. Knowing what to do when conflict arises is the bigger challenge. While there are many styles and strategies for navigating conflict, SKM Associates says there are several basic principles to keep in play:
1. Normalize it. Remember, conflict is inevitable and can be healthy. Normalize healthy conflict and positive ways to manage it.
2. Walk toward the conflict. Avoidance can be detrimental if the issues are not dealt with.
3. Begin with humility. Be reflective, not projective: “What part of the problem is mine?”
4. Check your aggression, reaction, personalization or any other antagonizing behavior at the door.
5. Listen! Passionately seek understanding. Validate the feelings of the other by listening more and speaking less.
6. Process out loud. Acknowledge the pain of the other.
7. Search for common ground. Explore agreement and similar ideas.
8. Outline areas of core disagreement. Help both parties clarify what is actually in dispute and consider ways to work through it together.
9. Seek help. If stuck, bring in more participants with differing perspectives and objective views.
10. Attitude, attitude, attitude is the key!
Conflict is inevitable. Each family member is unique and may have different interests, goals, perspectives, values, and needs. Not all conflict needs to be dysfunctional.
As a family and as individuals, practice positive conflict management techniques to diffuse conflict before it is destructive. Learn the skills necessary to walk through the journey together.