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AAW put skills to use to practice engaging in productive conflict

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Every year, the American Agri-Women (AAW) host an annual Leadership Academy webinar series designed to supplement and sustain real-life leadership development for members and non-members.

This year AAW hosted a series on cultivating resiliency for women in agriculture. Originally a six-part series, the webinar has grown so popular AAW has doubled it in size and will be hosting webinars on the topic through March.

In their most recent webinar, Kristine Ranger, an agri-science instructor, human resources consultant, business coach and farm-families succession-planning consultant from northeast Michigan alongside Shauna Reitmeier, chief executive officer of the Northwestern Mental Health Center in northwest Minnesota, talk through a real-life situation to put skills they taught in previous webinars to use.


In previous webinars, Ranger and Reitmeier discuss what conflict is, why it is important not to avoid conflict and how individuals can participate in productive conflict.

“Conflict is inevitable. It cannot and should not be avoided, but it can be managed,” stated Ranger. “Conflict is typically the result of anger or anxiety.”

“If individuals disagree and find it interesting, it leads them down a path of inquiry and questioning, to figure out the underlying issue and create a way to solve it,” chimed in Reitmeier. “If individuals disagree and find it threatening, they revert to their natural instincts of fight or flight.”

Ranger and Reitmeier pointed out since conflict cannot be avoided, individuals might as well make it productive. They explain productive conflict is simply skilled two-way communication focused on effectively engaging with others.

“A person cannot control how others respond to conflict, but their response is completely in their control,” said Ranger. “This is very important to remember.”

“I like to use an iceberg as a visual,” explained Ranger. “Only one-seventh of an iceberg is visible above the surface. This can be related to humans, as only their behavior is visible. We cannot see anybody else’s thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs or instinctive needs.”

              Although we might not be able to see these internal happenings, Ranger said we can still learn to read verbal and non-verbal signals to understand where people are coming from and why they do and say certain things.

DISC model

              The DISC model is a tool Ranger and Reitmeier suggest using to understand a person’s underlying goals and fears, which make them behave certain ways in situations of conflict.

              The DISC model breaks down individuals’ personalities into four categories – D, I, S, C.

According to Ranger and Reitmeier, the goals of a D personality are victory, results and personal accomplishment. These can lead to overuses, which are a need to win, impatience and bluntness. Their fears are being taken advantage of and appearing weak.

The goals of an I personality are approval, understanding and openness, leading to overuses of passion, impulsitivity and outspokenness. Their fears are rejection, not being heard and disapproval.

The goals of an S personality are agreement, acceptance and peace, leading to overuses of passive resistance and compromise. Their fears are letting people down and facing rejection.

The goals of a C personality are fairness, rational decisions and accuracy, leading to overuses of restraint, analysis and rigidness. Their fears are being wrong and strong displays of emotion.


              During the webinar, Ranger and Reitmeier discussed a real-life situation and apply the tools and tactics they mention in previous webinars.

              The situation goes as follows:

              A woman milked cows and fed calves for her father-in-law on his dairy farm. She has a master’s degree in dairy science so she has excellent knowledge of the dairy industry. She could not do anything right and her father-in-law belittled her and tore down her confidence.

              The woman never challenged him and continued trying to please him because she was scared of him and did not think it was her place to correct him or say anything. She worked for him for two years.

              The woman’s husband, the father-in-law’s son, also worked on the farm, but never stood up for his wife.

After feeling close to a mental breakdown, the woman left the farm and took a different job. The husband left the farm six months after his wife and also took another job.

              Eight years later, the family farm is sold because the father-in-law had no one to take it over as he had alienated his son and daughter-in-law.

Working through conflict

              “This is an interesting situation because I think it happens a lot,” said Ranger. “When it comes to succession planning on a family farm or ranch, oftentimes communication is non-existent. The older generation wants the farm to continue, but they don’t feel comfortable sitting down and having productive conversations.”

              Ranger and Reitmeier go on to explain based on the scenario, we can assume the DISC style for the woman is C, the husband is S and the father is D.

              “As we mentioned before, the overuses of a D personality is very task focused and the same goes for C personalities,” said Reitmeier. “So if the father-in-law is task focused and has this list of things he needs done, but the woman is also very task focused and her overuse is to be right, she might be slowing him down and making him impatient. Instead of starting in on her with verbal abuse, he should instead offer his idea on how to get the job done faster.”

              “For a C personality, like the daughter-in-law has, she sees his remarks as criticism,” explained Ranger. “C personalities absolutely do not like criticism because they are perfectionists and want everything to be done right. Because the father-in-law didn’t have this knowledge or the skills to read the woman’s personality type, it resulted in conflict.”

              “Instead of pointing fingers, both the woman and father-in-law should have asked questions to better understand each other,” Ranger continued.

              Ranger and Reitmeier note, in order to avoid knee-jerk reactions and destructive conflict, individuals need to better identify the emotions they are having at the time and then name what triggered the emotion.

              “We have talked about these hot buttons before. Many times hot buttons are the triggers leading to the emotions and then behavior,” said Reitmeier.

              Ranger added, “The daughter-in-law may have felt criticized in her past, or maybe that she wasn’t welcome in the dairy industry while getting her degree. So when she goes back to apply what she learned and is criticized by her father-in-law, it may have triggered a hot button.”

Steps to productive conflict

              “If the goal is to reduce stress, resolve conflict, save a relationship and build trust – like it is in this particular situation and many other situations of conflict on the family farm or ranch – there are several steps to take,” explained Ranger.

              Ranger said individuals in a situation of conflict need to decide on a good time to talk after their anger or anxiety have settled. Once they have agreed on a place, they each need to take turns stating what they heard without judgment, opinion or beliefs.

              The individuals then need to ask the other what they meant by what they said to gain some clarity around it.

              The final step Ranger mentions is to believe what the other person said, forgive them and move on.

              Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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