Keeping the Combat out of Conflict

Anyone who has ever been a part of a multi-generational family farm could probably attest to the fact that family farm members are no strangers to conflict. The Advancing Agriculture program has given me the opportunity to attend some conflict management training programs through the Justice Institute of BC, and I have learned some valuable skills that I am learning to use in many aspects of my personal life and professional life.

I have learned that conflict is an inevitable part of life and while there are some things we can do to prevent it from happening it is still going to occur. The good news is that we have control over how we choose to approach conflict and how we perceive conflict. Conflict is going to happen in our lives, but combat is optional. Many of us have never really been taught how to correctly approach conflict in a way that doesn't lead to combat, but it is an important skill to learn.

Growing up I was the kind of person who would avoid conflict like it was the plague. I would give in to other people's demands and do whatever it took to restore a sense of harmony, even if that meant forgoing my positions and needs. This type of approach to conflict is called accommodating/harmonizing. As I have grown older and wiser, I have learned that approaching conflict with this mindset serves no one and rarely actually resolves a situation, it only causes resentment and leads to more significant disputes in the future.

I have begun to embrace conflict and recognize its importance in my personal life and professional life. I have started approaching conflict with the mindset that something is broken and if we work together collaboratively, we can build something that is stronger, more resilient and more effective. This approach to conflict management is called the collaborative approach.

While I am far from perfect in the area of conflict management I have learned some strategies, I try to employ in every aspect of my life when conflict occurs to keep a conflict from escalating to combat:

  • If you start to feel angry or like your emotions are getting the better of you, pause and take three deep breathes. 2 Seconds in, 2 seconds out. Deep breathes will slow your heart rate down by about 20 beats per minute. If you only take one deep breath, you tend to hold it in, and it may have the opposite effect, causing your body to panic and speed up your heart rate.

  • If you still find you are angry and your emotions are spiralling out of control it is better to walk away and approach the situation again once you have calmed down. When we get angry, our body goes into an instinctual fight or flight mode. Adrenalin is released, and our heart starts to pump more blood to our extremities and less to our brains making is more difficult to reason, but easier to run or fight. Fight or flight is far from an ideal state of mind to be in when it is the most crucial time to choose our words carefully.

  • Keep in mind where there are two people there are at least two problems. Each of you has different experiences and perspectives, and it is essential to try and understand the other person's perspective.

  • Always employ empathy, try to understand where they are coming from without offering your advice or opinion. Never try to use phrases like "at least" or point out a silver lining. If you can't think of anything to say simply say "I am just so happy you told me".

  • Remember words are only about 7-10% of communication. Keep your facial expressions, tone and body language in check.

  • Instead of trying to dominate the conversation with your side of the story employ active listening skills. Stop talking, make eye contact, focus on what the person is saying, block out competing thoughts, keep an open mind, paraphrase the speaker's ideas, provide verbal and non-verbal feedback and ask questions to clarify. Remember W.A.I.T., Why Am I Talking.

  • No matter what is said or what happens, treat the other person with dignity and respect. People say things in the heat of the moment that they do not mean, don't let it upset you or allow you to act in a way you will regret later. Make it your mission to be even nicer to them with every angry word they throw at you.

  • Learn to understand your personality, motivation systems and what determines your self-worth. Once you know these factors about yourself learn to recognize how these factors are different for others. For example, getting a job done efficiently may be vital to you whereas a co-worker or family member may need to take that same job slowly and analyze the details. These types of personalities can either drive each other crazy or recognize that together they can use both of their strengths to create a final product that is far greater than what they would have built separately.

These simple strategies have helped me in many situations, and I hope they can be helpful to you as well.

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