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Serving: MN
Denise Stromme (center) led participants in a group exercise Janet Kubat Willette
OPEN TO LEARNING: University of Minnesota Extension educator Denise Stromme (center) led participants in a group exercise during a “Navigating Conflict and Tough Conversations in Agriculture” workshop at South Central College.

Preparing yourself for tough conversations, conflict

Conflict is part of life, so be ready to handle it in a positive, focused manner.

Have you experienced conflict today?

“It’s rare to be able to do anything without conflict,” said Denise Stromme, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, at a July 9 workshop titled, “Navigating Conflict and Tough Conversations in Agriculture.” The workshop, held at South Central College in Faribault, was the fifth of six workshops held around the state in June and July. Attendance ranged from six people in Duluth to 80 people in Marshall. About 60 people attended in Faribault.

Stromme, who is based at the regional Extension office in Brainerd, challenged the attendees to focus on being “here” as she guided them through a breathing exercise. She directed them to close their eyes and think “I am” on the inhale and “here” on the exhale.

“It’s hard to leave everything else behind,” she said, encouraging participants to focus on themselves, which is all one can control.

Challenging the participants to think differently, she asked them to go around the room and touch things and say the name aloud: “desk,” “phone,” “purse,” “chair.” Next, she asked people to touch something and say the name of the thing they had touched just prior, so instead of calling the phone a phone, it would be called a desk. Thirdly, participants were directed to touch objects in the room and call them whatever they wanted.

Which was the most difficult? The third, because it required people to make different pathways in their brain. Dealing with conflict is like that, too. It’s a part of life, but it doesn’t have to have a negative connotation.

“I’m going to ask you to think differently about conflict,” Stromme said.

Conflict isn’t a disagreement with another person, it’s a disagreement in which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs or opinions, she said.

Calling on a dairy farmer struggling to make ends meet or a crop farmer who wasn’t able to plant crops holds potential for conflict. The farmer stress may weigh on those who work with them as well.

Stromme shared some tips for navigating those tough conversations:

  • Become self-aware. Check your stress, biases and needs and let them go. “How you are is as important as what you do,” she said.
  • Prepare yourself. Adjust to the situation.
  • Be positive. Greet someone with a smile, dress respectfully.
  • Be focused. Maintain eye contact, put your phone away.
  • Be flexible. Present multiple options.
  • Be organized. Have materials and options ready.
  • Be proactive. Go to person instead of waiting for them to come to you, establish agreed upon goal.
  • Be empathetic. Understand that if you’re asking someone to change, emotions will be close to the surface.

“Change is hard. Conflict equals change and change equals loss,” she said, repeating for emphasis, “conflict equals change and change equals loss.”

But don’t put off the tough conversations, Stromme said. Dive in. Be present and listen to understand. Be thoughtful with your words and questions. Show respect and keep an open mind.

“We learn in situations where we feel we can expand our minds,” she said.

Kubat Willette is a Farm Progress digital content creator.
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