Social media and online conversations have brought about an entirely new world for companies and marketers to manage. Add in the fact that pretty much anyone is now allowed to join the conversation and I think we definitely have a tough situation on our hands when a crisis comes around. This month’s situation involving Muck Boots and the apparent miscommunication on a donation to their local humane association is a prime example that more people need to be aware of the basic principles for approaching and resolving conflict. The pitchforks and angry mob approach may get immediate results but it will not buy the long-term solutions or beneficial relationships we are seeking out.
This brought back several principles that were shared with me during a trip to Arkansas this year to discuss social media and advocacy with a group of young farmers and ranchers at Arkansas Farm Bureau’s headquarters. Jack Bowles is an extension agent in Newton County, Arkansas. If anyone has actually been to Jasper, I think you will understand just how remote and rural the county in the Ozarks Mountains can be. The local economy is based on timber and livestock, and has been that way since its very beginnings. A recent influx of new residents brought about a new set of ideals and these do not necessarily always sit well with the natives.
Jack described several situations that brought about disagreements, arguments, and all out disputes. In several of these situations, he found himself as the needed mediator, and has had to resort to these important principles to resolve the conflicts. They work in that situation and I believe these six steps are critical to understanding how to get along with others during online conversations as well.
Humanize the issue
The true cause of the problem often does not lie on the surface. Before immediately jumping in to play defense, take a moment to find the root of the conflict. Are there any apparent common goals or principles shared by either party? These can be critical in working towards a resolution of the problem or negotiations moving forward.
Know your players
What are the beliefs of either party? Who do they represent? Find out how they go about making decisions, possibly using previous statements to help you build a background. Being from the world of agriculture, many of us look at things in a scientific and data driven world. Most folks do not. To them, many problems are not a data issue, but a moral issue. If a person believes something is evil, all the data in the world may not convince them otherwise. You can prove anything with statistics, for or against.
Remember the platinum rule
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them, and then find out what makes them tick. The golden rule does not work for everyone. Sometimes you have to find out what motivates them, what their drive is, and then you can use that understanding to formulate and suggest an alternative to a negotiated agreement.
Know the vocabulary
We all have specific words and vocabulary. Avoid technical or industry terms or phrases that others may not be familiar with. Become familiar with those terms and learn how to find alternatives if you cannot explain them, because this can close doors fast. Be aware of words with connotations or those that may paint an inaccurate or grim image.
Give folks in conflict with you ownership of an issue. When they bring a complaint, give them a role of finding a solution. This will help them to better explore this issue. If you find yourself at fault, admit it. Also, do not be afraid to admit if there is something you do not know, and do not be afraid to bring in a third party. There is nothing easier to bring positive change than to bring in different point of view.
Dialogue is the archenemy of conflict
Most conflict exists in lack of communication. If you get heated, detach yourself from discussions. They do not need to see you sweat. Learn how to maintain control and keep your cool. If you are heated, back away from sending the next response. In online conversations, it’s best to write out your response in the heat of the moment, sleep on it, and send the response only after you have had time to contemplate it or have given someone else the opportunity to look over it for you.
Figure out how to apply these six steps to conflict situations in your life. Honesty and transparency are critical for us successfully moving forward in agriculture. Learn how to identify the details in a conflict situation and teach yourself how to address the problem in a calm and respectful manner. You will be a better person for it and will get more accomplished in the long run.
What would you add to this list? Do you have an example of how you have resolved a conflict situation?