Farmers get a great deal of practice compromising with vendors, landlords, employees and even family members. As such, farmers know how to compromise. The perception is that lawyers encourage people to fight rather than compromise. The truth is, the law encourages people to reach a settlement rather than the all-or-nothing approach found in the courtroom.
Is compromise a sign of weakness? Compromise is not a dirty word. Compromise is different than not dealing with a problem — i.e., kicking the can down the road. Rather, compromise is working together and leveraging each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Compromise requires a positive attitude and focusing on developing a real or better solution.
Farmers who are dealing with a conflict on their farm should focus on synergy. Synergy is defined as the interaction or cooperation of two or more parties to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. For example, if the focus is “what’s best for the farm,” personal agendas likely will be put aside and a solution reached.
Compromise to mediate disputes
A person can seek to better understand their personality by taking a Myers-Briggs Test. The test is a series of questions that help you understand your personality and, thus, your behavior. The test is a tool for determining your psychological preferences in four dimensions, which are:
Favorite world. Do you prefer to focus on your outer world (extroversion) or inner world (introversion)?
Information. Do you prefer to interpret information (intuition) or accept information “as is” (sensing)?
Decisions. Do you prefer decisions based on people and special circumstances (feeling) or on logic and consistency (thinking)?
Structure. Do you prefer to remain open to new information and options (perceiving) or make concrete, permanent decisions (judging)?
Studies have shown that individuals are more willing to compromise to manage conflict when they have a “thinking” vs. a “feeling” orientation on the Myers-Briggs Test. The “thinkers” are more likely to be objective in their assessment of differences and use factual information when weighing their options. When managing a conflict, they will be more inclined to accept or suggest a compromise when this seems to be the most viable thing to do. In contrast, the “feelers” will be less likely to desire compromise. They would prefer a win-win outcome and do not like the feeling of a loss.
Compromise is most effective when both parties use a thinking approach to decision-making. When the thinking approach is used, both parties weigh the pros and cons of the decision. However, when one or more of the parties is a “feeler,” it is important for the parties to listen to the concerns and feelings of the other party. A compromised decision that meets functional and humanistic requirements is most likely to be accepted.
Compromise under Wisconsin law
Most people are familiar with the courtroom method to resolve disputes, which tends to be an all-or-nothing outcome. However, many do not understand that there are provisions in the law, including under Wisconsin law, that provide for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. Under Section 802.12 of the Wisconsin Statutes, a judge may order parties to attempt settlement through any of a number of dispute resolution processes — i.e., settlement alternatives.
The major dispute resolution processes consist of two main classes: those that reserve authority for resolution to the parties themselves and those in which a third party decides the matter. Under Wisconsin’s ADR Statute, if the parties cannot agree on a settlement alternative, the judge can order them to participate in direct negotiation, early neutral evaluation, focus group, mediation, mini-trial or a moderated settlement conference.
However, the judge cannot order the parties to attempt settlement through binding arbitration, nonbinding arbitration or summary jury trial unless all the parties consent.
Many contracts, including contracts signed by farmers every day, have an arbitration provision written in them. The provision might permit either party to request arbitration or might specify that both parties must agree to arbitrate. If arbitration is to take place, it can be decided by a number of individuals or groups, including the American Arbitration Association.
There are advantages and disadvantages of ADR.
Some of the advantages are:
- efficiency as to time and cost
- methods and solutions can be flexible and creative
- confidentiality and its win-win nature
Some of the disadvantages are:
- inability to set a legal precedent
- lack of court protection
- less disclosure of information
Compromising and settling is part of life, including farm life. Many lawyers will tell you that after a lawsuit, their clients are generally still not happy because of the emotional and financial costs the dispute brought upon them. Sometimes, the ability for the parties to agree to disagree and to come to the conclusion that compromise is in the best interest of both is the best approach.
Schneider is a partner in the agricultural law firm of Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach. Call him at 920-849-4999.