When counseling farm families in the midst of conflict or a major disagreement, I encourage family members to implement several strategies in order to resolve these issues in the more positive manner and to create family harmony. Here are seven successful ways to overcome conflict and get your family and your family business back on track.
1. Initiate open and honest discussions.
This is the starting point. Family members must begin to communicate and share their feelings and concerns. If individuals withdraw from the situation and will not even discuss it, there is no hope of ever reaching a feasible solution. You must take time to listen and understand the feelings of other family members. Even if you disagree, be sure that there is an element of mutual respect with others. When family members will no longer communicate and withdraw their feelings, there is not much chance of a family farming operation surviving to next generation as a profitable business.
2. Keep all discussions on a positive basis.
Always keep a focus on finding a solution rather than finding blame with someone or accusing them of being the problem. Individuals get defensive when that happens. Never allow anyone to say something negative about another person. If there is a problem, point out what possible solutions might correct it. Focus on how you can work together and get along as a family.
3. Try to identify the real problem cause.
Begin by asking, “What is it that is really bothering that person?” This again requires good communication among family members and employees. Sort things out and find the real issues that individuals are upset about. Only then can you start to find an agreeable solution.
4. Be assertive, but not aggressive.
Be firm and state your position (feelings) without threatening or attacking the opinions of others. When individuals threaten others or try to bully their way, others will withdraw from the situation entirely and are no longer willing to discuss the issue at hand. The resulting silence between family members means troubles lie ahead.
5. Disagree without judgment.
Make sure other family members understand that even though you might disagree, you still love and respect them at all times. Love and respect are the foundations that strong families are built with. Without this foundation, there is little hope for harmony in the family workforce.
6. Avoid “no win” situations.
Find a way to compromise. Seldom is there a perfect solution to a situation. Every disagreement requires a little “give and take” by everyone to reach closure and resolve the conflict.
7. Build trust.
Individuals will share their feelings with others only if they feel trusted (not threatened). Trust builds respect between family members in the farm’s workforce.
Remember, it takes patience, persistence, understanding, courage, personal strength and forgiveness by everyone to make a family and a family business successful.
Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the