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.”

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  1. Rod Lyles
    Rod Lyles says:

    I find when I get into conflicts that if I can slow down things go better. I was taught a long time ago that when I get mad, I get stupid. (maybe life taught me that!) If I can slow down and not jump at saying the first thing in my head, I clean up a lot fewer messes. Also, I also discovered years back that most of what I get angry at is something that is from my skeleton filled past. There are precious few conflicts that I get into that I haven’t been in before. If I can make sure I’m dealing with the person and issue in front of me rather than my family of origin issues, things go better as well. Sometimes I just get pissy and want to take it out on someone which is the worst. Fact is, no one ever wins a power struggle. As long as the conflicts are win vs lose, it’s lose every time.

  2. Chris M.
    Chris M. says:

    Penelope, my best wishes for your marriage. I think that the only important piece of information about the woodwork in this thread is how hard it is to keep it clean (perhaps the work is not worth it?).

    Color preferences are something very personal (and by the way, Maria, I think you handled the criticism about your work very gracefully here. I’m about to move and if I have a chance I’ll hire you as my color consultant as well!).

    Just one thing I think you should be pay a bit of attention to, Penelope, is your method for “reaching compromise” with the farmer. What you did with the colors, “"You'll have better orgasms if we paint the woodwork," I told him.”, is dangerously similar to how my husband used to “manipulate” me into doing something he wanted. I would laugh and cave in but it worked only in the short term, later I’d feel really annoyed with both of us for letting him do what he wanted without consideration to my preferences.

  3. funcolors
    funcolors says:

    This comment is very interesting: “did you know that natural materials create negative ions in the air which help to boost your well being? Don’t paint over wood if you don’t have to!”

    The wood is not currently in any sort of “natural” state. It has been stained. As it is now, it has been chemically treated and changed from its natural state. The chemical concoction required to stain the wood and that is allowing the current “wonderful patina” to develop is wicked and harsh. Just reading the ingredients on the can of stain from back-in-the-day when the farmhouse trim was treated could make your eyelids melt.

    What you are arguing is one form form of chemical alteration over another – stain vs. white paint.

    Stain and paint, for all intents and purposes, does the exact same thing — they both chemically change the existing aesthetic of a surface.

    As homeowners we each get to choose how we want to use modern technology to alter the state of the materials used to construct our homes.

    Stained wood has pros and it has cons and it brings a senses of ambiance that painted trim simply can not. Painted trim has pros and cons too as it also establishes a design sense that is very different from a stained wood. Neither one is perfect for ANY one situation. Neither one will last forever and they BOTH require maintenance.

    You simply have to decide what is best for your lifestyle and how you use your space. Do not listen to anybody else. Intelligently look at the pros and cons of all your options, decide what personal aesthetic you want to live with, and then go do it. Screw what anyone else thinks about your farmer, his wood, or the designer.

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      funcolors, This is about conflict. She wants painted wood and a pink bedroom and he doesn’t. She is not the homeowner. They are not really married. The house is the farmer’s and he has a farming lifestlye. She does need to listen to someone else, the farmer, it is his house and she is trying to change it from a functioning farmhouse on a farm to “french country” foo foo. The post should be called how to drive someone crazy until you get what you want but have no right to.

  4. funcolors
    funcolors says:

    Including the farmer’s opinions in “personal aesthetic” was implied. I apologize. I should have made that more clear.

    They are a couple and I believe will be married. I was under the impression that they will both live in the farmhouse together with children. The structure has the opportunity for a fresh start as a family farmhouse it is no longer “his house”.

    The perception of “functioning” and “foo foo” is subjective.

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      If you have been reading along for awhile, the farmer gave his opinion and even if she does take care of her tax problems and they do get married for real, she will not own any part of the farm, including the house.

  5. TwistedByKnaves
    TwistedByKnaves says:


    You seem to rate Michael Bungay Stanier very highly. But not highly enough to spell his name right.

    On a more serious note, I hope today went well. I wish you every happiness, and that every conflict is resolved. Before the sun goes down.

    All the best,


  6. DC Deb
    DC Deb says:

    Re Jessie’s comment at 4/16/2010 at 06:51pm: “Any color specialist who says that wood comes across as orange doesn’t even understand her specialty.”

    Jessie, it’s fairly obvious that color specialist Maria Killam’s analysis of the “orange” tone to the wood was specific to the wood in this particular farmhouse. It was not a universal generalization of all wood tones. Not to sound like a snob, or anything …

  7. @decoralora
    @decoralora says:

    Have to weigh in here…I remarried 3 years ago and while dating my BF before our engagement we were both building/remodeling our own homes. BTW I am an interior decorator. I decorated my house for me, and his house more fitting for a man’s sensiblity. Fast forward 3 yrs. Now living in his house I have changed rooms to fit both of us. And he has loved everything I have created for us! He is generous of spirit with zero negativity…
    Maria is exactly right that the farmer will walk into his home and feel the love and the welcoming home spirit and be happy. That is exactly what has happened in my experience! Maria is also correct in that wood is a color, and certain colors don’t go together. Simply put, if farmer’s fiance wants happy colors then orange toned wood is a problem. The negative commentary from other designers name calling ( u don’t want to be a snob??) should be ashamed of themselves. Give your own opinion without the bashing. Amy

  8. A Gift Wrapped Life
    A Gift Wrapped Life says:

    Sent here by another Canadian blogger and looks like I might be here for days and days….no wonder you have 40,0000 subscribers. It is quite difficult to motivate me on a Sunday but you have me thinking hard and reading like crazy. I am really going to like it here, I can tell. All the best and keep up the great work.

  9. Paula
    Paula says:

    I wouldn’t want to paint the wood either. I very reluctantly had the wood in a home I was renting painted, and now I own the home, and I still hate that the woodwork was painted over in a blah-not-white color. Wood is warm, natural, charming and classic, and goes with almost anything in my opinion; painted wood has to be repainted, and will only match certain things. If I were the farmer, I’d want “better orgasms” quantified. (I’m female.)

  10. dl
    dl says:

    DC Deb is right on with her comment above.

    Penelope’s woodwork looks just like mine. If it is, it’s southern yellow pine and is finished in shellac, a natural resin commonly used at the turn of the century. As we’ve redone some of our rooms – tearing out plaster and lathing so we could insulate our American Foursquare – we’ve also redone some of the woodwork. We tried to replicate the finish, even using shellac on some. But there’s just something about that 100-yr-old patina that can’t be replicated. It’s a piece of our Midwestern heritage.

    But anyways, Maria is right. If Penelope’s woodwork is like mine, it’s an orange color. In fact, last week before PT’s hullabaloo even started I emailed Maria for paint suggestions to go with my woodwork. She answered me within hours and was super friendly – if I can ever afford a color consultant, I’m calling her!

    In the meantime, she’s going to post an article in the future about colors for natural woodwork. I’m hooked.

  11. guylaine
    guylaine says:

    wow. i don't read your blog all the time, but this post sure instigated nasty comments from a few ~ sad souls.

    there are certainly many people with strong opinions about what you should and should not do with your wood. and all this from a picture ~ hard to believe. unfortunately what people do not get, is that there is much much more to take into consideration before making a choice like this one.

    the wood itself, its quality, its condition, its colour, all of which nobody can really know from just looking at one picture. i am a designer myself, and i love the look of certain antique woods, but i also loathe others. it is all relative.

    then there is the colour and decor you want to create. at the end of the day it is ‘you’ who will come into your house, and what is important is how ‘you’ want to feel when you enter your home. that feeling you want to create might require a beautiful synergy of colours, and might also require the wood be painted. white is a very classy way to go, by the way.

    so go with your heart. everybody has an opinion and everybody think of themselves as the expert on the subject. no matter who they are, take what ‘you’ want (be it pink walls, or whatever colours makes ‘you’ happy) and follow the advice of someone who actually makes of living in home decoration/design, and whose style ‘you’ appreciate, and have that one person make it all work beautifully together… for you.

    this is very personal. the conversations and consultations you have with your designer is not up for debate; all this information these opinionated souls are not privy to. only your designer is. that, is one opinion you might want to listen to.

    good luck, and please post the before and after photos… when you're done. :)

  12. mamabear
    mamabear says:

    Oh honey, I just spent over $3000 and two weeks smelling fumes to take paint off an area of dark wood in my house. Even with all that, it will never be as lovely as it would have been had prior owners never painted it.

    There are plenty of beautiful colors that look great with dark wood trim. Check out books and websites about craftsman style. Gorgeous colors that feel natural and harmonize with nature in the Craftsman spirit, and think about it, will a brightly painted home really harmonize with a farm?

  13. guylaine
    guylaine says:

    a good designer knows how to listen to their clients and what will make them happy to come home to. their job is never to force their own personal taste into the equation, but rather to use their knowledge to create a beautiful space with the things that makes their clients' heart sing.

    i don't disagree with anything you say. i just know that we don't have all the information to tell someone what they should do with their home.

  14. Erin
    Erin says:

    I love white woodwork. LOVE. But I still think some homes look better with stained wood. I lived in a 100 year old farmhouse and painted every piece of trim white- it was old, yucky, mismatched trim with no character and once white, it was fresh, bright and lovely. And yes, we had colorful walls- the color of old milkpaints. I loved it, though it was a pain to keep clean. My new house has ugly builder grade orangey/oak and I would love to paint it white as well. Looking back, I sometimes wish I would have learned to work with the wood trim in the older house, but I still think a newer house in the subburbs looks better with white. Every house is different, what works for some does not work for others and it’s up to you to decide! :) Best of luck!

  15. Chad Warren
    Chad Warren says:

    I keyed into the part about transparent conflict.

    First off, I look at us in humanity like we are severely retarded in terms of understanding or being taught about ourselves.

    Yes, conflict is healthy but it should be a forward progression so you don’t become like the two old guys in the balcony of the Muppet Show arguing the same old way all the time, right?

    I have views that compel me to say that the Emperor wears no clothes. I perform just like the child in the fairy tale concerning how we are lead by psychopathic elite leaders that despise the rest of us for our very existence.

    While I’m concerned about big and little brother owning and using what we have formerly considered private against us: I wholeheartedly believe in living outloud. It has done alot of damage to people to not talk about and address their behavior and thoughts. Although, there is defintely a time and place.

    I must say, I am impressed by life coaches like Tony Robbins. He can work with someone outloud in front of a whole auditorium and make breakthroughs with a person or couple. While those breakthroughs may be temporary, they seem to lead to long term change over a year.

    Perhaps, working with people in large groups should be more normal and practiced. It is certainly how we are programmed by the elites. The Olympics is an example. It is an advertisement for the New World Order – the 5 rings symbol was first used in Hitler’s Berlin olympics.

    It interests me how people can just ignore me in person. Its one thing to have a difference of opinion; but, many are afraid to utter a word.

    So, just to bring a view like this to someone’s attention is forward progress in this geopolitical battle, I suppose.

    I see how miscommunication and misunderstanding dominates all interaction and that between my wife and I most definitely.

    I see that I have tremendous blind spots as well as my wife. From my point of view, I persist in getting an answer as to why she did something because it doesn’t make sense to me. I’m looking to understand. I might finally get an answer and feel better because I see the reasoning; however, she is hurt when she must give up information. Its hard for me not to expert her to be reasonable.

    Anyone could notice, identify and we could implement changes in how we argue or converse and it would improve things. I do it with my folks all the time when they have baby arguments. Sometimes, it seems like we’re all babies that didn’t grow up, to me.

    Paradoxically, from my point of view, I perform well in a conflict resolution role with partners at work. I can translate between the two parties when I observe when one is offended or misunderstood otherwise.

    Yet, in my personal life, I am quick to anger and impatient and easily offended.

    Penelope, I appreciate your blog. It looks like you are able to write from and about your world without fear that you must shape yourself and lifestory to fit some consensus understanding. Just being yourself is following the rule, right?

    It offers up what is promised – a means to take life and work lessons and have them serve the other.

  16. Jan Tymorek
    Jan Tymorek says:

    I agree with the Farmer and all comments on preserving the woodwork. It’s the charm of an older home, and it’s beautiful. YES it’s hard to do colors – I live in such a home. (White, cream, and by the way a pale sage is not bad next to wood. These are peaceful colors.) Beautiful wood is rare and even if limiting, embrace your good fortune to have a home that is distinct, historic. Some upgrades you can un-do, but painting the wood changes it forever. Don’t do it.

  17. Karen
    Karen says:

    Don’t paint the woodwork. It looks great the way it is. Put up some curtains or something if you want to be creative.

  18. melanirae
    melanirae says:

    paint don’t paint. whatever! I just wanted to say glad i found your blog (via an old post about LDRs).
    Look forward to reading more :)

  19. Tony Dean
    Tony Dean says:

    Here’s a suggestion… why dont we include conflict resolution as a compulsory subject in our schools. I know some people might think it sounds extreme, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

    In my experience it takes only a small comment or offensive remark to spoil a persons / victims whole day or to make. From a small comment great conflicts arise, that can in some cases lead to violence (particularly amongst young people).

    In my line of work i see this all the time.

    If we added a one hour weekly lesson to school kids that showed them how to respectfully talk to each other we could just make a slight difference.

    Anyone care to comment?

  20. Clarisse
    Clarisse says:

    I think the best way to hanbdle a conflict just think outside the box, and dont think that one’s own idea is the right one, this will help eveyone to know that they should listeen to each other, and try to learn from each other.

  21. Chauncey
    Chauncey says:

    Cheap veneers or plywood siding might as well be painted. But wanting to paint full-grained fine wood shows our lack of connection with what is beautiful and alive in nature. When I see wood grain, it is like I’m looking into a wonderful and mysterious living thing. Seeing wood-grain reminds me to be gentle and appreciative, it keeps me in touch with the majesty and magic of life and living things. Trees are elegant and artful as well as massive and remarkably strong, yet, at the same time, fragile and ephemeral. Please don’t paint the wood. Go find some cheap paneling to paint.

  22. Angelina Farrell
    Angelina Farrell says:

    Conflict Resolution is a process in which a conflict can be solved by the mediators or dispute resolution practitioner and they make a appropriate solution for the both of them.
    You can save you expenses and precious time without going to court by solving your dispute online or in a dispute resolution centre. It will help you by providing face to face dispute resolution service or online.

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