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Military Conflict Management for Ag Leaders

Conflict Management
What does the military have in common with farmers and ranchers? Outside the similarities of a shared passion for servitude, putting the needs and well-being of others (animal or human) before ourselves and often incomprehensible levels of dedication, we still see one stark commonality—the need for effective conflict management.
Running a farm or ranch can often feel like a recipe for conflict.  We don’t always see eye to eye with our spouses and children, usually better known as business partners and/or employees in this capacity.  Stressful situations between neighbors can quickly escalate to major conflicts if not handled properly.  As farmers and ranchers, we consistently feel pressured by outside influences to respond to new demands about how we raise our livestock, grow crops and manage natural resources and wildlife populations.  
Knowing how to properly manage conflict can be the difference between success and failure.  Identifying common sources of conflict, understanding common styles to managing conflict and awareness of situational factors are all key to effective conflict resolution.  Major Peter Shinn, Executive Office of the 101st Air and Space Operations Group shares the proven approach to conflict management taught to future Air Force officers at the USAF Officer Training School.
The first step toward effectively resolving conflict is to understand a few common sources of conflict.

Sources of Conflict

Personal differences. These are influenced by personal experiences and tend to be emotionally charged.  

Information deficiencies. Often instructions given to those responsible for projects or daily jobs are interpreted differently because there isn’t enough information given.  

Role incompatibility. An example we all relate too are situations where government representatives are working with landowners; their roles and responsibilities may create conflict.
Differing values and goals. In these cases you need a common superior to mediate.
Environmental stress. This stress can be caused by shortage of resources and uncertainty.
Conflicts of interest. May lead to one party in a situation to act in a way that causes conflict.
Over-dependence. Depending too much on one person in a project or in a job causes conflict, especially for others if that person leaves the job or project.
Need for consensus. The process involved in gaining consensus may lead to conflict.  People have differing opinions and sometimes feel strongly about them.  If the outcome is dependent on group consensus, be prepared for some level of conflict.
Behavior regulation. Sometimes behavioral regulations in your work environment naturally lead to conflict.  For instance, you may be in a subordinate role where you are expected to modify your behavior and the lack of free expression of opinions causes conflict with your superior.    
Unresolved prior conflicts. If conflict is not managed, resentment will often arise and this will often lead to further conflict.  We have all been in situations where we are working with individuals who have “bad blood” between them and that can easily spread to others in the work environment.  
Major Shinn also shared five primary conflict management styles and when to use them.

Five Management Styles

Forcing - This style can be beneficial when safety is important, but it involves being highly assertive and results in low compassion and low levels of cooperation.  For example… In a crisis, often the person in charge needs to force those he works with to do what he thinks is the right option for all involved.  This leads to resentment and should only be used when absolutely necessary.
Accommodating - Use this type of conflict management when your relationship with the other person in the conflict is necessary.  It results in high cooperation and requires less assertiveness. You need to consider how important the issue is to you.   If it is not important then accommodation is a good option. 
Avoidance- This management style requires low assertiveness, results in low cooperation and certainly doesn't fix the issue.  But, if you become involved in a conflict that is “not my problem” or in other words, it’s truly outside of your area of responsibility then avoidance might be the best option. 
Compromising- This is a lose-lose situation. The very definition of compromise is that both sides of a conflict lose part of what they are trying to gain. The biggest factor in choosing this conflict management style is often the time available to fix the issue. If you don’t have enough time to work through the conflict the quickest way to resolution may be to compromise.
Collaboration- Requires high levels of assertiveness, results in high cooperation and creates progression.  This is a win-win.  However you must have enough time to find a solution.  Given that you have time to work through the problem, collaboration is the preferred approach. 
Knowing common causes of conflict and understanding different management styles is half the battle.  The final piece to the puzzle is understanding situational considerations that will ultimately determine how you decide to approach conflict.

Situational considerations

How important is the issue?—Is this the metaphorical ‘hill to die on’? 
How important is the relationship?—This requires a hard look in the mirror.  Is this conflict worth the damage it may cause to a relationship?  Especially a relationship with a spouse or child?
How large is the power-gap? –Do you really have the authority to force your solution or will you be accommodating?
How quickly do we need to solve the problem?—Does the timeline allow for more collaboration?

Conflict is stressful.  It comes in all shapes and sizes.  We all experience degrees of conflict almost daily and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like sources of conflict for farmers, ranchers or the human population in general will go away anytime soon. Having the proper tools and coping strategies will assure you aren’t derailed by unforeseen conflicts. 


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