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How to identify and resolve 4 levels of conflict on your farm

Conflict is not synonymous with fighting, says Donita Whitney-Bammerlin of Kansas State University. Thinking conflict is abnormal, is the result of personality problems, or always results in anger are common myths, too, she adds.

Really, conflict is simply when two or more people perceive that what each other wants is incompatible with the other, Whitney-Bammerlin explains. Understanding the difference is key in conflict management.

In a webinar hosted by American Agri-Women Whitney-Bammerlin outlined the four levels of conflict. Identifying the level of a conflict is a great step towards resolution.

Level 1: Facts and Data

The easiest type of conflicts to resolve are about facts or data. For example, if the conflict is over a budget issue, you can go to the budget, pull out receipts, look at the numbers and figure out a resolution.

Level 2: Process or Methods

However, if the conflict is about how the receipts were filed, or how the accounting was done, you’re dealing with the second level of conflict – process or methods. These can be more challenging to resolve, but if you already have standard operating procedures (SOP) in place, they will point you back in the right direction.

It’s best to have SOPs established before there’s opportunity for conflict to arise. “Then, those can be voted on, agreed upon, or consensus,” explains Whitney-Bammerlin.

Level 3: Goals or Purpose

Conflicts over goals or purpose are more difficult to resolve.

Whitney-Bammerlin uses a group of parents in conflict over vending machines in school as an example. The conflict began when one group of parents wanted to install a vending machine in the school selling pop and candy bars as a fundraiser. Their goal was to create a money-making project for a group of students.

A different group of parents objected because many students are already dealing with disordered eating. Pop and candy bars would not be good for them, the second group of parents say. These parents wanted to the machine to sell healthier items like fruit juice and granola bars.

The first group of parents objected to selling healthy items because they believed students wouldn’t purchase those items, and they would miss their goal of fundraising.

“If the conflict was about process or methods, almost anyone could bring in a vending machine on a dolly, plug it in, stock it, and away we go. But, the goal of purpose is where the conflict lies here,” Whitney-Bammerlin shares.

Level 4: Values

“Not to be the bearer of bad news, but conflicts of values are seldom resolved,” Whitney-Bammerlin continues.

Values are deeply engrained. Being aware of the values of people you work with before conflict arises can help you avoid reaching this deep level of conflict. Look around you. What kind of people do you work with?

People of different generations or cultures may value different things, and likely behave differently. People with different workplace expectations will probably act differently than one another. These differences in behavior can be a source of conflict, says Whitney-Bammerlin.

Co-workers of different generations may see the same situation very differently because of what they value and what resources they are comfortable using. Whitney-Bammerlin outlines some general characteristics of four generations:

  • Born 1900 to 1945: Traditionalists are often loyal and hardworking. This generation typically is financially conservative and faithful to institutions.
  • Born 1946 to 1964: Baby boomers challenge the status quo and invented the 60-hour work week, but their identity is closely tied to their career.
  • Born 1965 to 1980: Generation Xers are more tech savvy than previous generations and don’t have as much trust of institutions. Although they are generally resourceful and hardworking, their job isn’t the most important thing in life.
  • Born 1981 to 1999: Millennials grew up with technology and are eager to learn about and question the world around them. They don’t see themselves as limited by a job description and are likely to make career changes over their lifetime.

Your culture is learned, although it may seem like common sense to you. “No, it’s not common sense. It’s not common to everyone,” Whitney-Bammerlin points out.

PTO is a great example she says. “If I were to say, you have to be careful, the PTO might kill you, some people might think PTO means parent-teacher organization, and I’m thinking of the power take off on the back of the tractor.”

It’s also important to remember, people interpret the world around them, including your comments through their culture, not yours. Keep this in mind as you engage with people who may have a different point of view than your own, she advises.

Similarly, people with different personalities may choose to handle situations differently, even if they come from the same culture and generation. Whitney-Bammerlin outlines a few characteristics of four personality types:

  • Directors and dominators: “They’re bottom-line, get ‘er done sort of folks,” explains she explains. These people often seek administrator or sergeant roles. They’re efficient, and likely competitive.
  • Interactors and socializers: “The Interactors are like the social butterfly type of people,” Whitney-Bammerlin says. These people often excel at marketing and sales.
  • Servicers and relators: Servicers want to make sure everyone stays happy and are often a good listener. These people might work in HR.
  • Calculators and cautious: Calculators are rule followers and often numbers oriented. “These people don’t like risk and they don’t like change,” she notes. These people may be really good at accounting.

“All of those roles are good, none of them are bad, but they all have their weaknesses,” Whitney-Bammerlin says. The way people act out their personalities may be perceived differently by someone of a different personality.

For example, the directors and interactors are often tellers, while the servicers and calculators may prefer to listen, explains Whitney-Bammmerlin. This difference in behavior can fuel conflict if you’re not aware of where other people are coming from.

It’s important to remember, it’s the behavior and how people act, not the personality that is causing conflict, she emphasizes.

Tone is part of that behavior. The same five words “I want to see you” can mean very different things, depending on the way its said. Keep this in mind as you speak to people of different personalities.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you feel yourself getting tense around a situation or person, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is there a real disagreement?
  2. Is the disagreement something worth being emotional about?
  3. Is the conflict over a fact? A process or method? A goal or purpose? A value?
  4. Are you willing to address the conflict? If so, how flexible and cooperative can you be, and for how long?
  5. What is it worth to you?
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