Stopping the conflict avoidance dance on your farm

Here’s some ways to engage in constructive conversation

You are likely exhausted from harvest as you have grabbed this paper for a few moments of “downtime.” Harvest stress gives everyone on the farm team a chance to show their true colours as to how they manage mistakes and high tension.

My question for you is, “Are you tired of the conflict avoidance dance on your farm?” “Are you finally ready to prevent destructive conflict avoidance?”

I bet there are folks on your farm who are ready to work out issues, yet they are highly frustrated by those who usually avoid. They often tell me, “I can’t deal with someone who won’t talk to me and tell me what the problem is!” So how can you deal with the “strong, silent types” who won’t engage with you?

Here are some tips from William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, authors of Interpersonal Conflict:

  • Put them at ease. Use a non-threatening approach — calm voice, friendly and open non-verbal actions (like extending your hand when you are asking someone to dance); don’t trap them in the pickup or a small space, and consider sharing a meal together. Breaking bread together has a huge impact on setting a good tone for a tough conversation. Pie makes people happy I am told!
  • Provide safety. Set ground rules (“I promise I won’t raise my voice or interrupt you”) and let them have time to prepare for discussion. I usually ask, “Is this a good time for us to talk? If not, when would work better?”
  • Change the mode of communication. Please don’t text! If you have been using emails, talk face to face; try writing out a letter if talking in person doesn’t work. I have seen the power of the written word with a young successor who carefully laid out his vision for the farm on paper, and then shared it with his parents. He typed it on the computer so that he could correct the tone of his letter. He was also careful to thank his parents for the opportunities they had provided, and he made requests in a polite manner.
  • Frame the conversation as relationship building. You might say, “I have a suggestion for how you could help build our relationship,” or, “Our project needs some help. Would you be able to talk with me about our timeline?”
  • Do not say, “We need to talk.” That strikes fear into the heart of most folks.

My friend Shelle Rose Charvet who wrote the book Words that Change Minds, has many great ideas for better communication. She encouraged me to start saying, “May I make a request?” rather that using, “I need to talk with you.” Check out Shelle’s free persuasion course at

When you avoid

According to Wilmont and Hocker, “If you see yourself as an avoider, we hope you will want to expand your repertoire to be able to collaborate, confront, stay engaged, and even escalate when needed. You will need to find the sources of your fearful responses, be willing to take breaks when you need to, practise initiating important conversations instead of waiting for others to initiate (this gives you a sense of necessary control) and focus on what is actually happening in the interaction instead of only how you feel.”

You may need to ask a third party for help in resolving the conflict to deal with your sense of overwhelm. That is why I will never be out of a job as a farm family coach. Farm families are entangled in the avoidance dance and they want it to stop.

If you keep avoiding, others around you will avoid all hot issues to take care of you, but I can tell you right now they are sick and tired of walking on eggshells on your farm.

Their other option is to get really mad, which is called escalating, and they threaten to leave. Either of these dances sets in motion a destructive system. “You may see yourself as the victim, or as the one who is right but persecuted,” says Wilmont. He says you can change your sense of self by adopting new, risky, but rewarding conflict skills.

Here are his tips for working with your own avoidance:

  • Safety comes first. If you do not feel protected, you can’t use productive conflict skills. If your partner shows any history or signs of physically harming you, work only with a third party. If you own a grain bagger, be careful. I have seen this machine cause father and son come to fisticuffs on more than one occasion!
  • Take breaks if you freeze when you are afraid. Let others know what is going on, “This is hard for me, I need to take a break, but I will be back.” You won’t be seen as an avoider but as a careful person. In mediation we call these “caucus” breaks where the person speaks privately to the mediator to get their bearings and more understanding or information.
  • Ask for the dance. Learn to initiate conversations rather than waiting. John Gottman calls this “making quick repair.” Don’t let issues fester and boil. Engage!
  • Ask for help if you are stuck. The greatest gift we can give each other is the sense of being heard. Talk to a professional third party, the farm stress line counsellor or a trusted friend to work out how you want to address your conflict situation. I have many resources on my website to encourage better conflict resolution. “How to Have Better Family Fights” is one of my most-watched webinars. You’ll find it at

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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