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Father and son standing against wall - obviously having a conflict. Koldunova_Anna/ThinkstockPhotos

Resolving on-farm conflict: Deal with emotional issues first

Crucial conversations can only happen when strong emotions are under control.

In our recent post, Mike’s conversation with his uncle didn’t go very well. Whenever the crucial topic of farm expansion came up, his uncle would just walk away. The logic of Mike’s proposal was not heard because the emotions surrounding the topic were too high.

Mike was stuck. Our advice? Deal with emotional issues before emotions become the issue.

This is true because our brains are hard wired to be emotional first and logical a distant second. When emotions run high and the conversation is crucial, our bodies work against us by triggering reactive responses that decrease our ability to act rationally.

When people are stressed from an uncomfortable conversation they resort to either silence or violence. They either clam up and remove themselves from discussions or they react explosively with heated words and possibly actions.

How to move forward

How can Mike take the emotions out of the discussion so they can talk about the farm expansion in a logical way?

Crucial conversations can only happen when strong emotions are under control, so that’s where Mike had to focus.

Mike took a hard look in the mirror and acknowledged where he contributed to the poor communication. He admitted that although his motives were good, he pushed too hard and was too blunt. He admitted he was mostly interested in getting his own way instead of hearing everyone out. He fell into the conversation killer of wanting to win at all costs.

The second thing Mike did was recognize when a crucial conversation was taking place. When the stakes were high he was watchful for reactions such as people clamming up, walking away, and stonewalling. These are all signs of silence. He also watched for flushed faces, strong words, emphatic hand gestures, and raised voices. These more violent reactions are opposite sides of the spectrum.

What the silence and violence responses all have in common is that someone doesn’t feel comfortable having the conversation. It doesn’t feel safe.

The third thing to do is start with heart, and that’s what Mike did. He reached out to his Dad and let his father know how important it was to have a good relationship with him. When Mike started with heart, it disarmed his dad and they were able to mend fences that were causing conflict.

Mike is preparing to have the same conversation with his uncle and he expects it to go reasonably well.

Is this too mushy?

This may sound mushy and too much about feelings, but the soft issues surrounding calm two-way discussions must be dealt with before the hard topic of Mike’s business proposal. That’s why Mike is focusing on the soft (but very difficult) topic of safe conversations first.

When Mike, his Dad, and Uncle are at a point where emotions are no longer the main issue, they will be able to calmly and rationally discuss the pro and cons of his proposal. Mike may get the expansion he wants but the path he is taking to get there is different than the one he started on. He is learning to master crucial conversations and he is dealing with the emotional issues first, so emotions aren’t the main issue.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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