Conflict Resolution- A Process

Rebecca Salisbury
Oct 15, 2015 01:42 PM

Conflict Resolution: A Process

By Cathy Olson, Business Consultant, AgStar Financial Services

And Rebecca Salisbury, Cooper Norman CPAs and Business Advisiors


 The fact that conflict exists is not a bad thing.  Resolving conflict effectively can lead to both personal and professional growth.  Awareness of a situation is expanded and individuals can gain insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of others.  Resolution brings cohesion, mutual respect, and a renewed drive to work together.  However, if conflict is not handled effectively, conflicting goals can turn into personal dislike and a break down of the team.


The dictionary defines “conflict” as “a struggle to resist or overcome; contest of opposing forces or powers; a painful tension set up by a clash between opposed and contradictory impulses”. Simply put, conflict could be defined as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.


Conflict can stem from a variety of causes, and understanding them is the first step in dealing with it effectively.  Some common reasons may include lack of trust, an existing unresolved disagreement, miscommunication, various personalities, ego issues, underlying tensions, or combinations of the above.


 People tend to respond on the basis of their perceptions of the situation or the perceived threat facing them rather than the true area of disagreement.  Therefore, any efforts to resolve the conflict must begin with discovering the true source of disagreement. Conflict resolution is “a range of processes aimed at alleviating or eliminating sources of conflict”. Developing a conflict resolution can be useful for effectively managing conflict in your family and in your workplace.  It won’t guarantee an agreement but it greatly improves the likelihood that the problems can be understood, solutions explored, and negotiated agreement can occur within a constructive environment.


The following steps outline a conflict resolution process.


  1. Create an Effective Atmosphere
    1. Choose a time that is best for all parties.  Pick a place where all parties can feel comfortable and at ease.
    2. Personal preparation
      1. Calm yourself.  Take a deep breath and relax.  This clears your mind and models control.
    3. Generate and/or restore order: 
      1. Generate "Ground Rules"
        1. One person speaks at a time
        2. Commit to listen to one another
        3. Commit to understanding before responding
        4. Commit to confidentiality
        5. Talk directly with the person involved rather than seeking an ally or creating gossip
        6. Attack the issues, not the person/people
      2. Use time-outs
        1. Stop a "fight" that is damaging the process
    4. Hear the story:
      1. Clarify each party's perception of the conflict. Ask questions to get to the heart of the issues. Clean up misconceptions by gethering information to defuse tension.
    5. Listen first and talk second:
      1. Make eye contact and don’t interrupt.  Honor the individual’s need to be heard.  Use paraphrasing to assure understanding.  Encourage the other person to share his/her issues by using statements such as “I want to understand what is upsetting you.”  Reflect feelings; “I can understand how upsetting that is.”  Validate the concerns; “ I really appreciate that we are talking about this issue”.  Try to understand the problem and the other person’s goals while keeping the conversation objective rather than personal.  Be forgiving.  Recognize that it takes courage on the part of all parties: It takes courage to honestly and clearly articulate one’s  needs and it takes courage to sit down and listen to one’s  adversaries.
    6.  Agree on what the problem truly is:
      1. Often underlying needs, interests, and goals can cause people to perceive problems differently.
    7. Generate Options: 
      1. Break the problem into more manageable elements. Deal with one issue at a time.  Avoid “tangents”; “Earlier we were discussing issue A, but now I hear you raising another concern”.
      2. Look for common threads.  Try brainstorming options by writing them down and narrowing down the list.  Look at all ideas while deferring judgment and focus on ones that meet one or more of the shared needs.  Make sure options are workable for all parties.
    8. Agree on a solution and develop “doables”:
      1. This moves the options to resolution and brings closure.  Use the ideas that have the best chance of success.  Generate actions that meet shared needs and build trust.
    9. Mutual benefit agreements and test for satisfaction: 
      1. Ask – “Are you sure this will work for you?”  This should give you lasting solutions to specific conflicts.  Focus on agreements rather than demands.  Find shared goals and needs.  Create stepping stone solutions to move to mutual benefits.  Recognize the compromises or “givens”.  Assure clear communication.


Often our response to conflict during times of stress is to ignore it and hope it goes away because there is no time to meet about it or create new procedures.  This dooms us to repeat the same errors rather than learn from opportunities.  It is important to realize that all families and all businesses will experience some level of conflict.  The danger of leaving the conflict unresolved could result in business disruption or family discord.  Using a conflict resolution process will create a higher likelihood of successfully addressing and moving past these conflicts in a manner that will enhance family harmony and business operations.   Businesses and families need to have systems for dealing with disputes put in place during times of harmony so they can be implemented during times of stress.  Does your family/business have channels for expressing problems and concerns that are safe and effective?



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Selecting Family Advisors

Rebecca Salisbury
Dec 16, 2014 10:31 AM
In the course of providing consulting to clients over the decades it has become apparent that we have advised our clients to get over the need for independence, and seek help from trusted advisors such as veterinarians, lenders, agronomists, lawyers, consultants and other ag  professionals. The business of agriculture has become so complex that no one person can maintain adequate knowledge in all essential areas of the industry. In a great little book entitled How to Choose and Use Advisors: Getting the Best Professional Family Business Advice by Craig Aronoff and John Ward, I found a wealth of knowledge on the value of good advice and how to find and use the right expert advisor for your family business.  Below are some bullet points to help you in your search.  The consultants at Cooper Norman would welcome you to use these criteria to judge their expertise.  They are sure you will find they have the highest qualifications to “keep your business healthy and your family happy”.
Benchmarks of Excellence in Advisors
• Maintains up-to-date technical knowledge and shows strong interest in and commitment to his/her field
• Communicates openly in clear, simple language
• Seeks to know the family and business in depth
• Understands how families work and how family and business relate to each other
• Gives advice and counsel that suit both the family and the business
• Shows empathy, patience and trustworthiness
• Is willing to work with successor generations 
• Promotes collaboration among advisors
Red Flags in Client – Advisor Relationships:  Advisor…
• Fails to avoid conflict of interest
• Fails to respect client confidentiality
• Works in isolation
• Sells solutions rather than listening to problems
• Ventures beyond his/her knowledge
• Makes decisions for the client
• Fails to foster good communication
• Lacks empathy
Checklist for Selecting Advisors:
• Do you trust the person and feel confident of his/her abilities?
• Is the advisor at least as successful in his/her field as you are in yours?
• Is the advisor still learning and willing to change?
• Would you be proud to be associated with this person before customers, suppliers, and other important contacts?
• Does the advisor have a good mix of long-term and newer clients?
• Does the advisor have enthusiastic references from businesses similar to yours and have the references given permission to be used?
Resource:  How to Choose & Use Advisors by Arnoff & Ward
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Devin Peterson Joins Cooper Norman

Rebecca Salisbury
Jan 8, 2014 10:00 AM
Cooper Norman is proud to announce the recent hiring of Devin Peterson as Business Consultant. Devin will be working out of the Pocatello office and specializing in farm business planning, financial analysis, family business succession and transition planning and other consulting services to farm and agribusiness clients. He will be working closely with Mike Salisbury, who has specialized in management consulting for 35 years. 
Devin completed his B.S. in Agribusiness at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He also completed his M.S. in Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, focusing his research on intergenerational farm transfers and their financial implications.  He grew up in Firth, ID, working on his grandparents’ farms, and enjoys going back to help out in potato harvest, cattle drives, and anything else dirty and outdoors. He is happily married to Camille Peterson.
Cooper Norman was founded in 1954 and is one of Idaho’s largest and most respected accounting and business advisory firms.  They have offices located in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello.  Cooper Norman believes in recruiting the brightest minds and developing strong teams that focus on the clients’ needs, helping them develop strategies to achieve their goals.  For more information about Cooper Norman, please visit us at or call the Pocatello office at 208-232-6006.
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