When we find ourselves in stressful situations, most likely there is also a lack of direction or communication taking place, and the end result is conflict.

Gordon lynn
Consultant and Ag Writer / LEADER Consulting, LLC

Conflict makes the day-to-day activities around a farm, ranch or feedlot stressful and can have great impact on the overall outcomes.

Unfortunately, some employers are far removed from their staff or disconnected to the point that they don’t realize conflict is brewing.

Often this is because the employees have become accustomed to the lack of direction or support and have just learned to go with the flow, as you might say. The end result – an employee going home at the end of the day unsatisfied.

Often, the supervisor doesn’t realize the seriousness of the issue until the employee says “I quit.” Yet, in some other cases conflict is very visible.


There are continual disagreements, arguments and an uncomfortable working atmosphere day in and day out. The following are three tips supervisors and managers should consider in effort to reduce conflict with their employees.

1. Strive for open communication

Supervisors with open communication and a close working relationship with their staff are not the ones that find out the frustrations and disappointments as their employee walks out the door – headed for another job.

Supervisors, like leaders, need to be able to empower the relationship they have with their employees to create an open environment for discussion and debate.

Conflict may not always be bad, because discussion and disagreement may lead to a creative solution or cost-saving plan around the ranch, but conflict that is not addressed remains just that – conflict.

Unaddressed conflict will drain the life out of the employee or employer and definitely out of the business.

Many of us can remember a current or past supervisor saying, “Your review is in six months, so if you have something to discuss we can discuss it then.”

Astute supervisors don’t wait until performance reviews or exit interviews to show they care about their employees – after all, your employees are an integral part of your business.

Consider taking the time over coffee one day a week – or at 5 p.m., after a busy day, sit on the tailgate of the pickup and have a discussion.

Questions to consider asking include: What do you like about working here? What parts of the job do you particularly enjoy and why? Are you challenged in your day-to-day work? If we could change something around here, what would be the first thing you would do?

Questions like these allow the employee input, make them feel like his or her viewpoint matters and are the foundation of building a relationship.

However, don’t be alarmed if the employee doesn’t open up the way you may expect; creating open communication takes time.

2. Building trust

Building trust is the basis for open communication. Your employees must know that you trust them and their abilities and on the flip side they must trust you for your word.

Stephen Covey, well-known author on management and working with people, says, “When trust is low in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every transaction: Every communication, every interaction, every strategy and every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up.”

Covey’s experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

In terms of agriculture and the ranching or feeding industry, this can mean many things. It can mean more death loss at calving time because the cattle were not monitored properly; calves were not treated timely for a disease and the little things, like checking the waters or cleaning the bunks, are only done at a mediocre level because the employee doesn’t feel they are respected and trusted by the supervisor.

Covey says trust is the opposite of a tax – it is a dividend to the operation.

3. Understanding personalities

It doesn’t take long when working with a team to know that people represent different personalities. We all have and represent different personality types – even agricultural employees.

In the corporate business world, CEOs have devoted a great deal of time and money to have consultants come in and analyze the personalities of their management team or sales teams.

Why do they do this? So those on the teams can better understand the personalities of their teammates and create a positive working environment. Teams that understand each other’s personalities can be more productive and reduce conflict.

For example, two people with very different personalities may be constantly in conflict with one another, but once they understand that one of them is always going to overreact and the other one is never going to show any emotion, they begin to understand how to truly work together.

This is the same between supervisors and their employees. If you are expecting something out of an employee or a reaction that just doesn’t fit their style, you will get frustrated waiting for them to react the way you think they should.

Conflict can result because we fail to recognize and appreciate each other, but gaining the skills to know how to approach someone who has a much different personality type than you may result in reaching a faster solution and less hurt feelings.

Check with your local or state extension specialists, as many of them have been trained to conduct personality type tests or know of a consultant in the area.

One of the best things you can do for your business (whether it’s a family business or non-family) is take an afternoon to learn about each other’s personalities in order to start building open communication and trust and to reduce conflict.  end mark


Teams that understand every member’s personality can be more productive and avoid conflict. Photo courtesy of Progressive Cattleman staff.

lynn gordon

B. Lynn Gordon
Extension Educator
South Dakota State University Extension