Resolving conflict is a challenge for many farming businesses. Conflicts among family members or business partners that go unchecked will likely adversely affect productivity and profitability. Unresolved conflict can even go so far as to cause a business failure. A method of resolving conflict should be in place in every farming operation to help ensure its success.
Although formal methods of conflict resolution such as mediation, arbitration, and litigation are available, the most effective conflict resolution method is open and frequent communication. The key is to deal with issues within the operation before they become major conflicts and create adversity among the parties. If the parties can share their thoughts, frustrations, and concerns in an honest manner, on a periodic and timely basis, issues the size of anthills can be resolved before they become adversities the size of mountains. Implementing planned methods for communication is often the best way to foster open and honest sharing. Regularly scheduled weekly or monthly meetings with all parties attending is an effective means of dealing with issues. Such regularly scheduled meetings should require one hundred percent attendance. Giving this level of importance to communication should minimize hard feelings and business disruptions.
Sometimes, even with the best of efforts and intentions, the parties just cannot seem to work things out through communication, or just cannot communicate at all. In these situations, a formal conflict resolution procedure may be in order. Perhaps the most common of these is mediation. Mediation is a method of nonbinding dispute resolution involving a neutral third party counselor who tries to help the disputing parties reach a mutually agreeable solution. The key aspect of mediation is that it is non-binding. The parties must agree to cooperate and abide by the mediator’s conclusion. Many attorneys, trained mediators and other professionals are well suited to assist with conflict resolution.
Arbitration, another form of dispute resolution, is much like mediation. Arbitration, by agreement between the parties, may be binding or non-binding. If non-binding, the arbitrator may rule but the parties may still not agree. If binding, the parties are legally obligated by the arbitrator’s judgment. Once the arbitrator rules, neither party can take the issue to the judicial system. The arbitration procedure may involve one or more arbitrators. Both mediation and arbitration are usually much faster and less costly than litigation due to the less formal nature of the proceedings.
Litigation should be the last resort for resolving conflicts. Litigation involves taking the issue to the judicial system and asking a judge or jury for a resolution. Besides a potentially significant investment of time and money, litigation can be procedurally complex, and may take years. However, there are times when litigation is appropriate and at such times, legal counsel should be retained.
Continual, honest and meaningful communication is certainly the recommended way to deal with conflict resolution. If the parties can not find a resolution, then engaging professional help to mediate or arbitrate may be economically wise and emotionally less draining.