This article is an excerpt from Elaine’s book Farming’s In-Law Factor.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “conflict”?
Is it negative or is it positive?
If you’re like most people, you’re thinking, “Of course it’s negative! How could conflict be a good thing?”
Yes, as crazy as it sounds, conflict can be a good thing. It all depends on the situation and how we deal with it.
Our initial response to conflict on the farm isn’t always the most productive. That’s why understanding there are other ways to cope is critical to managing the situation.
Once you identify your go-to move for dealing with conflict, you might see why conflicts in your life never seem to get resolved. Then, you can opt for a different conflict resolution method to get the outcome you hoped for!
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
Over the years, many theorists have looked at the ways, styles or tactics people use to address conflict. The following is based loosely on the five styles found in the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Kilmann Diagnostics 2009-2013):
Now, let’s dive into each of the 5 types of conflict outlined by the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument to gain a better insight into why we might choose (or not choose!) each one.
Here are the 5 ways of dealing with conflict on the farm.
Collaboration is all about finding a win/win solution.
It means creating a result that meets the basic needs or wants of ALL parties and that all parties can live with — while still honouring people and relationships.
Sure, effective collaboration may require more time, energy, and creativity than compromising or accommodating…
But when the issue, outcomes, people, and relationships involved in the conflict are valued, it’s worthwhile to invest the time and energy it takes to collaborate.
This makes collaboration a great option for farm families to consider when faced with a significant issue.
When someone lets go of their goals or desired outcomes in order to allow someone else to achieve theirs, we call it accommodation.
On some farms, it might be known as “giving in” or, when taken to the extreme, “being a doormat.”
When important goals or needs are frequently relinquished for the benefit of others, resentment can grow and people and relationships may suffer. Ironically, people often choose to accommodate in order to prevent this harm, but have ended up causing it.
There are also times when accommodation might be the right choice for conflict resolution.
For instance, one FIL didn’t like the fact that his DIL wanted to paint the farmhouse blue, but let her do it anyhow — even though he still owned the house. The FIL smartly realized that his relationship with his DIL was far more important that than the colour of the house.
This was a wise time to accommodate.
Accommodation only works well when the outcome is really not important and the relationship is highly valued.
When people feel they’re not getting their needs or wants met, they sometimes resort to aggression or aggression masked as competition.
For instance, one farm family agreed to switch houses so the son and his family could be on the main farmyard. But when the time came to move, the father couldn’t let go.
Instead of finding a solution to the conflict that would be mutually beneficial, the father said, “I’ve given you 10 years of help with the farm. I’m not moving. I guess that we will have to go into competition with each other.”
As you can imagine, this method of conflict resolution often provides no resolution at all.
In life, we need to choose how we use our energy. We can’t fight every little battle.
But denying or avoiding conflict may make the situation worse if the issue needs to be addressed — it can actually hide the conflict and impede any resolution
Remember though, there are times when avoidance makes sense.
Maybe the conflict is over something that won’t matter tomorrow.
Even when you’re stuck in the mud, there are times it makes sense to stay put — like when you see your neighbour in the distance, coming up the road to help. […]
For many families, dealing with conflict on the farm seems like too big of a risk to take on.
When the issue at hand is small or the outcome isn’t really important, avoidance can be the right choice.
In a compromise, each party gets some of what they want, but no party is completely satisfied as their needs and wants are only partly met.
When the outcomes are of low or moderate importance, compromise could be the best way to deal with conflict on the farm. But, if the issue is morally or life-threatening, compromise can have a detrimental impact on the vitality of the farm, or it can harm people or relationships.
When the issue is not critical, morally questionable, and probably won’t matter in 5 or 10 years, compromise could be a reasonable option.
Conflict is as much a part of life as rain. And when the stakes are as high as they are for farm families, a certain level of conflict is inevitable.
But what isn’t inevitable is conflict being dangerous and destructive.
Sometimes, it can breathe much-needed life into a dried out situation.
And just like dealing with water issues, addressing conflict is not always easy or straightforward.
We need to learn to manage conflict in a way that unleashes opportunities instead of causing destruction. And understanding the 5 ways of dealing with conflict on the farm is a great place to start!
Would you like more help improving your family’s communication and conflict resolution skills? Contact me today about private coaching options!
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