Published in Country Folks, March 7, 2011
Contact information updated, January 2014
Conflict and negotiation are part of our everyday life. We usually manage those situations fairly well on our own. Sometimes our usual strategies just don’t work, and the situation escalates. At that point we consider walking away, ending a personal or professional relationship, or giving the problem to lawyers or a judge to resolve. Unfortunately, litigation is costly, at least one side looses, and business or personal relationships are rarely improved.
My work gives me plenty of opportunities to hear about conflict and agriculture. One of the many great things about agriculture is the abundance of metaphors. So, how is conflict like manure? There are more similarities than you might think!
First, conflict is like manure because it happens every day. It seems to be a by-product of everyday life. And, if it is not dealt with promptly and effectively, it accumulates. As one wise farmer told me: “When you are mad at someone, you hate the way he ties his shoes!” We tend to lose our objectivity, and everything the other persons says or does becomes a fresh insult.
Second, when conflict or manure accumulates it becomes a problem, at first in the barn, and then for the family and business. If those problems are mismanaged they can offend the neighbors, and create a toxic environment. Unresolved conflict uses up a lot of our time, attention and energy; it can pollute our lives and those who live or work with us.
On the other hand; when manure is handled well it enriches the environment and produces bountiful crops. With some expert management and advanced technology, manure can generate clean energy. But if the management or technology fails, and especially if sparks fly -- it can be explosive!
It is a widely accepted practice to consult nutrient management experts to make plans for the proper handling and application of manure. Similarly, conflict management experts can help manage conflict and differences of opinions about family or business matters.
New York has a great resource to help producers and agribusinesses manage conflict and make plans effectively. More and more people are using mediation to resolve conflicts, to work together to solve a problem, and to collaborate on a plan that will work for everyone. Mediators are trained and experienced experts in conflict management, communication and negotiation. The New York State Agricultural Mediation Program (NYSAMP) provides free or low cost services in every county in New York.
When is it time to get some expert help with conflict management or tricky business planning? Some of the signs that it is time to ask for help from an expert are that the conflict is escalating, it is interfering with our ability to get our work done, or that it is damaging personal or professional relationships. When we are trapped in an escalating conflict we find ourselves going over and over our own story, blaming the problem on others, loosing perspective and even “demonizing” the other person.