“Conflict is often healthy. It can generate creativity and new ideas, lead to improved decision making, and help people learn and grow,” said Rob Skacel, a business psychologist with True Edge Performance Solutions. In spite of these benefits, when your business involves family members, as many farms do, conflict can be very stressful.
“Working with family certainly has its unique blessings and challenges,” noted Skacel during a “Building the bridge: The people side of dairying” webinar hosted by Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence.
“In the family realm, family members are not going to always get along,” Skacel said. He recommended that listeners assume conflict will happen and prepare for it before tensions rise.
While he shared much advice on family businesses and how to resolve conflict successfully, Skacel’s presentation also included what he called some conflict caveats, or red flags, to watch out for.
The caveats of conflict
One caveat was conflict taking place through electronic communications. “Bring in as much human presence as possible,” he said. “When you are having conflict, don’t fire off emails.” He encouraged people to pick up the phone or see the person face-to-face. “You have a much better chance of resolving conflict effectively when you bring your whole presence to the situation,” he said.
Another red flag to watch for is signs of contempt or disgust. “When people treat one another with contempt or disgust, it is very, very difficult to salvage the relationship,” he said. This is true in both business relationships and personal ones, like marriage.
Next, he reminded the audience that success depends on whomever is least invested in making it work. “You can be a good business partner, but you cannot make someone else into one,” he said. “Sometimes, you just have to accept that reality.”
In some situations, “People do better if they just decide to separate,” he said. He shared that some people suffer through years of pain trying to work together when the business relationship just isn’t going to work. On the flip side, he said that ironically, sometimes a discussion to separate sheds light on the positive aspects of a partnership and can motivate a better working relationship.
Finally, Skacel said, “Know your limitations, and be prepared to seek professional consultation to help resolve conflict.” This could be a member of your dairy team, or someone outside your circle who has experience working with family businesses.It is not always possible to avoid the problems listed above. Still, even when things are not going well, “If you plan ahead, you are more likely to deal with conflict in a healthy way,” Skacel said.