Interacting with employees
Employer-employee interaction includes verbal and non-verbal communication, listening skills, perceived actions, recognizing cultural differences and language barriers, and sometimes conflict. Non-verbal communication creates more of an impact than verbal.
- Communicating on the Farm
- Cultural Differences
- Defusing Arguments and Disagreements
- Understanding Conflict in the Workplace
- The Extra Crew
- Additional resources
Communicating on the Farm
Vern Pierce and Joe Parcell
University of Missouri
Communication requires at least two people. It is the responsibility of both the sender and the receiver. Some characteristics of effective communication are discussed below. Think about and use each to the extent it can help you improve communication in your family business.
- Articulation. This requires that you focus on the issue and say what you intend to say. Don't rely on others to "know what you mean."
- Active listening. Listen for the meaning and feeling behind the words of the sender. Repeat to the sender what you understood was said.
- Sharing. Communication is a sharing activity and requires both talking and listening.
- Respect. Respect for one another and acceptance of differing viewpoints facilitates sharing.
- Honesty. Communicating what we really feel is important.
- Ego out. When communicating about a problem, it is best to focus on the "what" of the problem and not "who is presenting the idea."
Responsibility for Communication
Who has responsibility for communication? Both the sender and the receiver. Watch for the barriers to communication. We often develop habits that prevent good communication from happening.
Barriers to effective communication
- Failing to listen. You do not stop what you are doing and thinking to listen without other preoccupations. At a minimum, wait until the other
person is done talking before responding.
- Listening only with your ears. Are you hearing the emotions behind the words (fear, anger, unhappiness, joy, hopefulness)?
- Jumping to conclusions. You decide what your answer is going to be before the person has finished speaking. You think you know what is
going to be said before it is said.
- Closing your mind. You are not open to new ideas or thoughts. Your ideas and thoughts are the best. Your mind is made up.
- Being self-centered. You start to listen, but something that is said starts you thinking about something else and you do not hear the
- Judging, criticizing and preaching. You prejudge based upon what a person says, how he/she is dressed or his/her approach. This judgment often causes a response that is critical and preachy and certainly doesn't help the "two-way" process any.
Overcoming These Barriers
When someone starts to talk to you, stop what you are doing and thinking.
Helpful listening tips for important issues
Listen actively and passively. Listening to another person is a skill that is often practiced with good intentions but with poor results. Here are guidelines for improving listening skills on all matters, but most critically on the important issues.
- Setting the Scene
Setting the scene involves choosing the best time and place for listening. Considerations should include:
- Enough time. Don't be rushed in the process, this signals to the other person that what he/she is talking about is unimportant to
- Comfortable "turf." Pick a location that is neutral to each person, such as a public place or outside). Try to avoid pressure
points like the job site or in the farm office.
- No interruptions. (phone, kids, other people, etc.).
- Enough time. Don't be rushed in the process, this signals to the other person that what he/she is talking about is unimportant to you.
- Passive Listening Skills
Body language has big impact in face-to-face communications. Body language that shows the listener is interested includes:
- Good eye contact. Maintain eye contact as much as possible. Don't convey negative reactions by gazing off or day dreaming.
- Body positioning. A relaxed posture slightly leaning toward the other person is usually most effective. Don't fold your arms
across the chest, as this is often perceived as a defensive or "closed" body posture.
- Nodding and facial expressions. These have great impact on the person being listened to. If you are unsure about your expression,
or receive feedback that you look angry, bored, happy, etc., when you are not, try to casually reposition yourself.
- Encouraging words. These run from door openers ("Can you tell me about it?" "If you feel like talking, I'd like to hear about it")
to "encouraging grunts" (Oh?! Really? Ah, of course.) These are to let the person know you are listening without breaking the flow of conversation.
- Silence. Silence can be a powerful way of encouraging someone to talk. It is common that people have a hard time dealing with silence. They want to say something to fill the void. A comfortable silence will often encourage the speaker to talk.
- Good eye contact. Maintain eye contact as much as possible. Don't convey negative reactions by gazing off or day dreaming.
- Active Listening Skills
Active listening is the process of reflecting back what the other person said to check out your understanding.
It is a process of restating what you heard in the words and feelings of the speaker.
Active listening always involves reflecting back some of the communication received, either the facts, the feelings or both. An active listening response might sound like: "You seem to be feeling (feeling word) about (situation)."
When you are actively listening, you reflect and summarize. It is often helpful for the listener to "sum up" what was just said. Doing this helps focus on what has just been said and check your understanding of the message.
You can use these tips in your everyday conversations. It will help you stay in the loop of information on your farm and improve everyone's dedication to your farm goals and mission. However, you must understand these suggestions need to be tailored to your own usual "style" so that they don't seem contrived or fake.
Excerpt from Communicating on the Farm from the University of Missouri Extension. The full article can be read at [http://agebb.missouri.edu/mgt/commonthefarm.htm].
Communications on many farms are impacted by cultural differences and language differences. There are many diverse ethnic groups employed on farms, but the majority are Hispanic. Managing Hispanic Workers: Perceptions of Agricultural Managers [http://dairyalliance.psu.edu/pdf/managingHispanicWorkers.pdf] (15 pages) describes many of the specific challenges that both employers and employees face.
The article Supervising Across Language Barriers [http://apmp.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=188] provides practical information for communication with English as a second language employees.
Defusing Arguments and Disagreements
People can be so unpredictable!
It happens to the best and most well intentioned managers. At some point an employee is likely to disagree and want to argue about a decision or course of action on the farm.
Ignoring the conflict is a poor option at best. It sends a message that you don't want to solve the problem or deal with the underlying issue. It also tells your employee that their ideas, their concerns, or they themselves don't matter.
When someone is dead set on arguing with you, defuse the situation with these easy steps:
- Thank the person for their interest, concern, comments or input to the situation - - even if the comments were shouted at you. The attack is not
personal so don't take it that way. The frustration, concern or anger is with the situation. Keep your cool and don't lash out, even when being berated.
- Start your response with the phrase: "Let me see if I understand you correctly." Then restate the person's argument as completely and
accurately as you can. If you are incorrect in your restatement allow them to correct you and again restate your understanding back to them.
This will do three things:
- It gives the person time to clam down,
- Gives you the chance to further process and understand what was said;
- It shows you are truly listening and taking their concerns seriously.
- Find at least one thing in their argument that you can agree with. Even if you believe their argument as a whole is nonsense, pick out at
least one point you can agree with.
By conceding a point up front you show that you're not defensive about the situation and really want to solve the problem.
If the problem is with a third party be certain not to take sides on the issue before ALL the facts are gathered from ALL parties. You might say, "If that's the case, that doesn't seem right. I'll look into it further right away."
If the issue is a result of a decision or action by you, don't duck the blame or make excuses. You'll appear defensive and the individual won't believe anything you say nor that anything will be done to correct what they perceive as a problem.
- Ask the individual: "What's fair? What would you suggest be done?" Sometimes people will actually accept less than we might be prepared to
do in solving a problem.
It always pays to first find out exactly where they are on resolving the issue before you offer anything. Depending on the timeframe available, and what's at stake, don't make an immediate decision. Tell them you'll take their suggestions under advisement but may not be able to follow them 100%.
- Solve the problem. Remember: Perception is reality. If the issue is important
enough for the employee to argue about, it's a problem in their mind and you need to deal with it.
In a timely fashion, either solve the problem, or educate the employee to help them better understand the situation and the reasons things must be as they are.
Smart managers need not fear complaints and arguments from employees. It shows that employees care enough to want to improve things rather than just quit and leave. It's also an opportunity for good managers to shine by taking employee suggestion to improve the operation, turning a negative into a positive, and increasing employee loyalty to the farm.
ProDairy Manager, 01/2000. Reprinted with permission of PRO-DAIRY, a Cornell University program, and Northeast DairyBusiness magazine. For information on additional reprints, please contact Robin Huzinga at 272 Morrison Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (607) 255-4478. For information on Northeast DairyBusiness, contact Debbie Morneau, DairyBusiness Communications, 6437 Collamer Rd., E. Syracuse, NY 13057. Phone: (800)334-1904. E-mail: email@example.com
Understanding Conflict in the Workplace
Julie Gatlin, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner
Universiitiy of Florida
Imagine this: it appears you have an easy day ahead of you. Your schedule is not overbooked and things seem to be running according to plan. Upon arrival at work, however, you discover your budget has been reduced and new objectives, which you find questionable, have been identified. Your co-workers do not share your point of view. To make matters worse, information you need within three hours will not be available until the last minute. How should you handle this situation?
Understanding conflict, and how it can be used for effective resolution strategies, is important for effective communication and productivity in the workplace.
Eight Causes of Conflict
The first logical steps in resolving conflict is to identify the problem and then identify what caused the conflict.
- Conflicting Needs
Whenever workers compete for scarce resources, recognition, and power in the company's "pecking order," conflict can occur.
- Conflicting Styles
Because individuals are individuals, they differ in the way they approach people and problems.
- Conflicting Perceptions
Just as two or more workers can have conflicting styles, they can also have conflicting perceptions. They may view the same incident in dramatically different ways.
- Conflicting Goals
Employees may have different viewpoints about an incident, plan, or goal. Problems in the workplace can occur when associates are responsible for different duties in achieving the same goal.
Take for instance a bank teller's dilemma in a situation where he is being given conflicting responsibilities by two of his managers. The head teller has instructed the staff that rapid service is the top priority, and the community relations director has instructed the staff that that quality customer service is the top priority. One can imagine how quickly problems could arise between the teller and the head teller if speed is sacrificed for quality time with the customer.
- Conflicting Pressures
Conflicting pressures can occur when two or more associates or departments are responsible for separate actions with the same deadline.
- Conflicting Roles
Conflicting roles can occur when an employee is asked to perform a function that is outside his job requirements or expertise or another employee is assigned to perform the same job. This situation can contribute to power struggles for territory. This causes intentional or unintentional aggressive or passive-aggressive (sabotage) behavior. <
- Different Personal Values
Conflict can be caused by differing personal values.
- Unpredictable Policies
Whenever company policies are changed, inconsistently applied, or non-existent, misunderstandings are likely to occur. Employees need to know and understand company rules and policies; they should not have to guess.
Next time a conflict occurs
take a moment and ask yourself this series of questions:
- What may be the cause of the conflict?
- Is it because you or someone needs a resource?
- Is someone's style different than your own?
- How do others perceive the situation?
- Are goal and action-plan priorities in order?
- Is there conflicting pressure?
- Is an employee concerned about role changes?
- Is the conflict over differing personal values?
- Is there a clear company policy about the situation?
Once a cause is established, it is easier to choose the best strategy to resolve the conflict.
This is an adapted excerpt from EDIS document HR 024, a publication of the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Published July 2002. The article, in its entirety, is available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/HR024
The Extra Crew©
Howard R. Rosenberg
University of California, Berkeley
[The following scenario shows how even minor communications and events in one part of a farm operation can end up affecting many people in other parts.]
The grape harvest had been in full swing for a week. Of the 38 regular vineyard employees at UBA Ltd., 23 would staff this typical night's mechanized harvest.
Each of the four vine shakers would require a total of five workers: two machine operators, two alternating tractor drivers to pull bins catching the grapes deposited from the harvest machine's long boom, and one cleaner to pick leaves and vine branches out of the bins as they filled.
Each team of five was assigned to work with a designated machine throughout the three to four-week harvest period. In his daily maintenance check that afternoon the chief mechanic had detected a faulty regulator valve in machine #3. Figuring that continued operation of the machine would probably lead to major damage, he disconnected the valve and dispatched his assistant to pick up a replacement in Sacramento, seventy miles away.
As the 7:00 o'clock p.m. starting time approached, the new part had still not arrived. The vineyard manager and supervisor decided to temporarily reassign the five machine #3 workers to help out the other three teams. These workers proceeded to assist in keeping the conveyors on others' machines free of jam-ups and in removing leaves from the bins as they filled, but this help was by no means necessary.
At 10 o'clock p.m. word arrived that the replacement valve could not possibly be obtained until the following day. There had apparently been some miscommunication between the mechanic and the parts distributor in West Sacramento.
It was now clear that the five men who regularly worked on machine #3 were superfluous to the operation this night. With the higher ranking vineyard manager recently departed for the winery and not expected back for another hour, the vineyard supervisor decided that the company did not need to be paying five employees who were not really needed for the ongoing activities.
The supervisor found each of the crew #3 members, explained that their machine was down for the night, and told them to go home. As he made the rounds of the three operating machines to deliver this news, he also informed the remaining fifteen crew members (on machines #1, #2, and #4) that since one machine was out of commission, they would probably have to work a couple more hours to complete all the harvest scheduled for that night.
The five workers from crew #3 acknowledged the supervisor's instructions, climbed down from their temporary work stations, and prepared to go. As they left, none appeared happy. The two tractor drivers, who five minutes earlier had been enthusiastically clearing conveyors with a long pole from a platform immediately behind the harvester driver, appeared visibly upset. One of them tossed his pole into an adjacent row.
Questions to consider (plus brief responses to questions):
- In brief, what happened here that affected workers? (A problem outside of the
workers' control essentially reduced one crew's earnings opportunity and lengthened the already long night for three others.)
- Was the supervisor's decision to send the #3 crew home a wise one? Why or why
not? (He did save some wage dollars but appears to have upset members of #3 crew and perhaps the others as well. In deciding how "wise" the decision was,
we would like to know whether there was any policy or precedent for it in the company.)
- What else could he have decided to do, given that only 3 harvesting machines were working? (Among alternatives to consider would have been (a)
leaving the crew members in their temporary help-out positions, (b) asking employees in all the crews whether any would prefer to take the rest of the night
off, (c) looking for something useful for crew #3 to do, (d) sending the extra crew home with pay, and (e) sending home the crew that was least senior,
meritorious, or otherwise deserving to stay.)
- Regardless of whether he made the right decision, did he deliver it well to the workers affected? (He could have expressed some regret that
they were going to be put out. He might have asked, rather than told, the three remaining crews whether they would be willing to stay longer. Halting
production for a few minutes to explain the situation in a group meeting could have come off better than delivering the news piecemeal. He could have assured
the workers that the cost and inconvenience caused by this kind of down time would be evenly distributed in the long run.)
- Would you expect any long lasting ramifications from the decision on this night? (Possible problems that may develop relate to (a) resentment and retaliation of crew #3, (b) resentment, fatigue, and perhaps end-of-shift mistakes of other crews, (c) increased formality or hostility in relationships between crew members and supervisors, and (d)increased competition or decreased harmony between crews.)
© Howard R. Rosenberg, University of California, 1993. Used with permission.
Helping Others Resolve Differences- Empowering Stakeholders. Gregorio Billikopf Encina of the University of California has written a book on the management of interpersonal conflict, using Party-Directed Mediation. The book may be purchased or downloaded at http://nature.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7conflict/.
Chapter 12, "Interacting with Employees" Labor Management in Ag: Cultivating Personnel Productivity [http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7labor/001.htm] by Gregory Encina Billikopf of the University of California.
How Full is Your Bucket? Positive strategies for Work and Life
By Tom Rath, Donald O. Clifton, Gallup Press, 2004
Gregorio Billikopf Encina of the University of California has an article on Empathic Approach: Listening First Aid. http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/acticle40/.
Last modified June 23 2006 01:53 PM