The Cost of Conflict

January 29, 2014 03:28 AM

Don’t let your farm lose productivity

iceburg1Conflict in a family business is inevitable. Whether it takes the form of a small quarrel, major argument or an all-out war, conflict can lead to broken relationships and, if left untreated, the demise of a business.

"Conflict is like an iceberg," says Carolyn Rodenberg, founder and owner of Alternatives to Conflict. "What you see above water are the symptoms and what’s below are the causes. Until you get to the causes, you’ll never solve the problem."

Think of it from a cost-benefit standpoint, Rodenberg says. "The cost of not addressing the conflict and allowing it to develop into a war is much higher than taking the risk and confronting the smaller issues as they come along," she explains.

Conflict doesn’t show up on many farmers’ balance sheets, but Amy Shoemaker, director of people growth strategies with Kennedy and Coe LLC, says conflict creates true costs.

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These costs come in the form of direct costs, productivity costs, and relationship and emotional costs. Direct costs to the business include delays in achieving goals, lost revenue due to missed deadlines and sales, and fees of lawyers and mediators.

Productivity costs are the value of lost time and opportunity cost of what employees could be producing.

Relationship and emotional costs include loss of ongoing relationships; impact on family and non-family members; not collaborating to meet goals; poor morale, gossip and undermining coworkers; and pain of being held hostage by emotions, rather than focusing on the goals.

Differences in ideas, goals, needs or plans can all equal conflict. "Conflict can start as a content issue, such as unclear decision-making authority or who is responsible for which tasks, but then turn into a relationship issue," Shoemaker says. "That’s not what we want, especially for a family business."

When dealing with conflict, you must address issues head-on, explains Rodenberg. Disagreements can be a teaching moment. She offers a simple process to help resolve conflict: confront the issues, assess the issues, analyze the source of the issues and create options and solutions.

Slash the Clash. For the process to work, invite the team to meet. Use the farm office or an off-site location—a neutral setting that doesn’t have an underlying power structure, Rodenberg says.

If the conflict has grown to a major issue, use a third-party facilitator. "You cannot facilitate a meeting and participate in it," she adds.

During this process, lead by example. "Make sure you listen more than you talk," Shoemaker says. "Avoid becoming defensive, which can be challenging. When you can see positive intent in the other person’s perspective, you are ready to begin a productive conversation."

If your team is split on a decision, Shoemaker suggests using a flip chart. "Have each group write down the benefits of their idea on a flip chart," she says. "Then switch charts so the other group can circle the benefits they agree with." This allows you to find common ground on which to build further consensus, before addressing areas of disagreement.

Compromising is typically a part of conflict resolution, Rodenberg shares. "The bottom line is everyone needs to feel safe enough to be able to talk honestly," she says.

Download more tools to help prevent and solve conflict on the farm at

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