Coats are very important on the farm. Mine are always not dry enough, not warm enough, or not dirty enough for going into the chicken house. So when I'm on the farm I just wear one of the farmer's coats.
1. Clarify personal needs that are threatened by the conflict.
And hats. Do you see the red hat in the picture? It's from Amsoil Lubricants. When I first met the farmer I thought it was hilarious to have a hat that said lubricants. So the first time he dumped me I tried to get the lubricants hat as a relationship souvenir.
Later I realized that he would dump me a lot. It was his way of coping with the feeling that intimacy is scary. So then I focused more on learning conflict resolution and less on who gets the hat.
2. Accept conflict as a natural part of personal progress.
In fact, most of life is about conflict resolution. It's either internal conflict or external conflict, but if you don't have conflict then you are probably not trying to do something interesting with your life. (Not that interesting is everyone's goal, of course.)
Michael Stainer, who writes The Great Work Blog, once told me that if you are not annoying someone you are not doing anything new. I think this is true. (Sometimes I think it could all come down to this: you either scare your mom by creating an unstable life or you scare yourself that you are living merely the life your mom wants for you instead of the life you want for yourself.)
3. Assert your needs clearly and specifically.
My goal is that I want to have baby chicks this spring. We did it a year ago. And they were so cute. And we took 500 photos and spent hours each day cuddling with the chicks under the cozy glow of the heat lamp the farmer set up in my garage.
The kids were so happy, and I was happy that the kids were happy, and the farmer was still in good-behavior-dating mode, so when I didn't want to clean up caked-on poop and dead chick residue (yes, some of the chicks died) the farmer did it. He says it's too much to make room for me and the kids at the same time as helping me and the kids hatch chicks.
4. Learn what works for other people, and practice in an honest setting.
Today companies are standing out by being more transparent. Bridgewater, for example, is a hedge fund that video tapes every meeting they have. This allows you to see what you are like in meetings, and get better at self-coaching, but it also allows you to see a meeting where a co-worker got a bigger bonus than you. Now you can figure out why (and then record yourself screaming at your boss about it.)
The transparency trend shows in transparent conflict at home, too. People blog about fighting with a spouse, and they even do real-time public spousal fighting on Facebook. Remember how sex got better when we all started talking about what we are doing? I think the same is true of conflict. When we see other people arguing, we get better at doing it ourselves.
John Gottman is the king of fight. Well, the king of reading them. He can look at a couple fighting and tell if they will get a divorce. Really. And now he's a millionaire for writing books that tell you how to fight so you don't get a divorce.
The farmer and I are working on that.
5. Focus on building consensus.
Researchers have found that conflict within a company makes the company smarter and more innovative. That's why companies with diversity—people from different backgrounds —are more successful than homogenous companies.
But this is not true for small, fast-moving startups. Management consultant Frans Johansson found that in the case of a startup, there is no time for conflict because there are too many decisions that have to be made very quickly. So diversity is not productive in that situation.
Do you see the woodwork in the photo of the coats? The farmer doesn't want to paint it. And I said okay, because I thought he cared about it more than I did, and I think of us in startup mode right now, and the less conflict we can have the better.
6. Laughter eases conflict and promotes cooperative negotiating.
But then I talked with my designer, who specializes in color (Maria Killian— I love her) and she said that the wood is very limiting. Unless we paint it white, the wood functions as orange in the house, and very few shades of paint will match orange.
I told Maria it's going to be a big fight.
She said that tons of couples fight this fight. Maria explained that men have an odd affection for their woodwork. She said it's worth it if I want strong colors on the walls.
So I explained the colors to the farmer.
And he brought up that the pink bedroom is also bugging him.
And I quoted a study that I wish I had read but I sort of only heard it third-hand which said that men feel more masculine in a bedroom that is very girly. “You'll have better orgasms if we paint the woodwork,” I told him.
He laughed. And then agreed to paint the wood white, and the bedroom pink.
“But,” he said, “no baby chicks.”