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Communication greases the wheel, part two

iStock/Getty Images Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with implementation, organize, teamwork, development, process and change concept words
Facing the uncomfortable: How to address a problem or conflict in your farm operation.

Last week I wrote about the frequent daily or weekly operational coordination that keeps the wheels of your operation turning without too many squeaks. This week let’s consider communication when you need to address a problem or conflict.

When you hear a knocking sound in the engine, you stop to investigate and fix it before it gets worse, right? That’s the first tip.

Some degree of annoyance and conflict is likely in any family or team, and even more likely in families working together. When difference of opinion or conflict causes stress or distraction, too often I see folks grumble but do nothing, because it’s uncomfortable to address.

Yes, it’s wise to stay calm and see if the problem dissipates with time. However, if it doesn’t, avoidance is not a strategy!

Usually, the stress is simmering in plain view—impacting not just those in conflict but also the rest of the team watching. How do you go about communicating in that situation?

First, the logistics

Let the other party know you’d like to discuss the thorny topic so they aren’t blindsided. “I can tell we’ve been grating on each other the last few weeks. Can we go to lunch tomorrow to figure it out?”

Second, try to understand the drivers. Most conflicts are based on three core drivers: content, process, or relationship.

  • Content conflict means we disagree on the what of a decision. I think we should not trade tractors this year to be fiscally conservative. You insist it’s too good a deal to pass up.
  • Process conflict means we disagree about how a decision was made or implemented. You agreed to higher rent when I was out of town and didn’t consult with me first.
  • Relationship conflict means our perception of each other and history together is derailing us. I see this one build up over time in unhealthy partnerships, such that we assume the worst about each other’s intentions no matter the topic at hand.

When preparing for a tough conversation, take time to identify which of these is really the issue, so your proposed solutions address the right problem.

You can also think of those three components from the positive viewpoint of preventing conflict, called the “satisfaction triangle” of working together. To maintain satisfying interactions, you have to attend to all three points of the triangle: content, process, and relationship.

In every partnership, make sure you’re nurturing all three. When making major decisions as an ownership or management team, not only gather the relevant facts and information, but also have a process that gives everyone time to study the information, ask questions, and provide input.

Invest in your relationships. That might mean having a conversation before the meeting with the person you know will be most anxious about it, for example.

While this triangle may sound academic, it’s a practical way to diagnose the knocking sound and design a solution to address the problem.

Related: Communication greases the wheel, part one

Davon Cook is a family business consultant at K Coe Isom. Reach Davon at
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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