Ask 1,000 people, and 999 of them will say they don’t like to deal with conflict. But it’s impossible to completely steer clear of situations and individuals that stir the seeds of discord in your personal relationships or your dairy farm business.

However, just because conflict arises does not mean it must have a negative outcome. Instead, use it as an opportunity for change, recommend Cheryl Stinksi and Karen Dorn, partners in Alternative Resolution, Inc., based in Appleton, Wis. These experienced problem-solvers and conflict mediators have helped many clients, including folks in agriculture, work through conflicting issues so that all involved can move toward a positive outcome.

Here are 10 hints that Stinksi and Dorn have developed over the years to help overcome conflict:

1. Develop a positive attitude about conflict. It’s imperative that you consider your attitude whenever you approach a conflict. Think of the situation as an opportunity to do something differently as a chance for growth, progress, improvement and greater understanding between the parties involved. It’s also an opening to improve your operation’s products, systems or services.

2. Talk with people, not about them. Don’t rely on second-hand information — go directly to the “source.”  This removes the filter of other people’s opinions and experiences. Those who have the conflict are usually best able to resolve the conflict.

3. Approach the other party with respect. Remember that others are people first, then spouses, parents, employees, suppliers or whatever other roles they shoulder in daily life second. Everybody has his or her own emotions, values, background and viewpoints. A common vision and honesty are two of the biggest assets producers bring to the mediation table. And, sometimes conflict resolution is as simple as clarifying that vision for everyone on the operation. Be sure to follow the rule of no name-calling or put-downs when working through a problem.

4. Take ownership for your part of the problem. Successful resolution means both parties are actively involved in discussions without accusation. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. And keep in mind that a sincere apology often opens the door to constructive discussion.

5. Create a setting that encourages “working it out.” Find a neutral place to meet that is familiar, comfortable and private so that you are free from interruptions, distractions and the attention of others. Be sure to factor in the timing of the discussion. Give time for cooling off if necessary and allow time to prepare for the meeting. Be sure to choose a time that’s convenient for everyone involved. Also, set up discussion rules, like only one person may talk at a time and stick to the issue at hand. Most importantly, clarify that what is discussed at this meeting stays in this meeting unless OK’d by all parties involved.

6. Use active listening. Successful conflict resolution is really 80 percent listening and 20 percent problem-solving. Use paraphrasing and clarify what you’ve heard before actually giving your viewpoint or response to what was first said. Ask neutral, open-ended questions if you need more information to better understand the other person’s position.

7. Identify the problem before trying to solve it. Nine times out of 10, a supposed conflict is really about something else. These underlying issues often take time to uncover and may not even be related to the issue originally raised. However, the discovery of these underlying issues is the key to lasting resolution. Use active listening to help you learn what’s behind the conflict.

8. Focus on interests, not positions. Positions are what you have decided upon — the stand you have taken on an issue or situation. Interests are what caused you to reach that decision. When you focus on a position or the decision someone has already made about an issue, it can lead to a power struggle because nobody wants to be wrong. When you focus on interests or what factors were involved in making the decision, it’s easier to negotiate and work things out because you focus on the process and not the outcome.

9. Include all parties in problem-solving. Look for solutions that everyone involved can live with. Ask what each party can do to solve the problem. 

10. Put policies and systems in place to deal with future conflict. Once you’ve addressed conflict on your dairy, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have to deal with it again. Develop a plan for dealing with conflict when it arises, and be sure to include all stakeholders as you put your scheme together.