Editor's note: This article ran in the December 2008 edition of Dairy Herd Management.

Juggling the demands of a dairy farm, family and personal needs can be quite a challenge. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own problems that you fail to communicate effectively. This leads to misunderstandings.

These simple misunderstandings — as well as the stress of dairy farming — can easily damage personal relationships between family members, as well as with employees. The inability to effectively communicate, along with the added failure to handle disagreements in a positive manner, can hamper the harmony and the profitability of your dairy. 

Positive disagreements

Disagreements in a family or with farm employees are normal and often inevitable. Disputes within a family farming operation are sometimes unavoidable.

Disagreements are part of life itself, but they do not have to ruin relationships with others (family or employees). Conflict can destroy trust for others if the farm’s working environment is not supportive and understanding. 

Fairness is the key issue to resolve any conflict situation between individuals. Learning to deal with conflict in a positive manner can actually lead to personal growth as an individual. To accomplish this:

  • Always look for win-win situations. 
  • Make a concession or two as a gesture of good will. 
  • Resist having the last word after things have been settled.
  • Avoid conversation killer terms or phrases that often stop the communication process. 

The real trick is learning how to have disagreements with another person without being disagreeable.

Fight fairly

Many times individuals will use unfair fighting tactics during a disagreement. They know the other person too well and use that to their advantage. This may mean refusing to admit that the problem even exists or simply pretending that the problem will disappear by itself over time.

Another common tactic is to walk away and give the other person the silent treatment. They are not willing to openly discuss the issue or problem at hand. 

Others try the avalanche approach by storing up all their gripes over time and then unloading them all at once. The other person is overwhelmed and does not know how to respond to so many problems being thrown at them. 

It is easy to worry more about who to blame rather than finding a solution. This means time is spent fighting or arguing about the issue or disagreement rather than working out a feasible solution. Too often, families fight about the same old issues without ever resolving their real differences.

Steps for success

Learning to share your feelings with another person without finding blame is the first step to working through any disagreement in a positive manner. Keep your discussion focused on the problem at hand; never let one argument lead to another argument. 

Try avoid using “you always” or “you never” during a disagreement. The “you” word only points the finger of blame at the other person. They will quickly become defensive and never understand what you are trying to explain. 

Be sure to avoid any name-calling or yelling. Also be honest with each other and stick to the facts of the matter being discussed. This keeps the emotional stress out of the discussion at hand.

Remember, never argue with another person in public. Keep any personal family or employee arguments private. And above all else, remember to tell others “I am sorry” and then show that you mean it.  

Following these simple practices offers a much better opportunity to resolve family disagreements or employee conflicts in a more positive manner.

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the  University of Nebraska.