Resolving conflict at farmers markets
by April Jones, Market Manager, Pinehurst Farmers Market. Reprinted from the blog of the Farmers Market Coalition.
Conflict is an inherent part of life and can often bring about good change. Having the skills to resolve conflict is an essential part of a successful life, especially as a farmers market manager. In the field of the farmers markets, dealing with a lot of different types of people, there will inevitably be conflict that arises. Everyone has a different perspective and viewpoint and it is important that we all dialogue with each other to resolve any conflict that may occur.
Farmers markets are a beautiful opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and gather around food. Allowing all people access to high quality, local, nutrient dense food and being a part of the food movement is a wonderful thing. Building your skills of conflict resolution and restorative justice will allow for your market to thrive and survive. At times confronting conflict can be a difficult and hard task, but with the simple steps you will feel empowered to be an active participant in your market and you will have the skills to succeed.
Conflict occurs when two people come to the same problem or issue and have different perspectives on how to solve the problem. Many people avoid conflict, and they will even refuse to admit that there is some type of conflict. One simple way to tell if there is a conflict is looking at the person’s body language. It is one of the simplest ways to tell if someone is upset. Body language to look for that indicates there may be a conflict: avoiding eye contact, this means that the person is nervous towards another person.
Crossed arms indicate that the person may feel under attack. Frowning, this expression states that the person may feel anger towards another or a particular situation. Physical positions, a person may stand or face away from other people to show that they are upset. When you see any of these outward signs, know that a conflict may be brewing under the surface and that you will have to directly address the issue or issues that are below the surface.
Steps to resolve conflict
Identify and define the problem. This will require dialogue and opening listening skills that do not place blame, but listen clearly. Once you have identified the problem, state the problem as clearly as possible. Make sure that you have clarity that all members can agree upon.
Develop all the possible solutions. Think of all of the possible solutions to your particular problem. Think big, and be creative – this problem can be solved! You can also take the time if necessary, to research the problem and see the solutions that other communities have developed to solve similar problems. At times it helps to write out all the possible solutions and then have a discussion about which will be the best solutions to the problem. The conflict may have multiple solutions, and that is ok – don’t feel that you have to be committed to just one solution to every problem. Evaluate carefully every alternative to the solution and use open dialogue to decide what is best for your organization and community.
Decide on a resolution. This decision is a very important step. Once you have made the decision or decisions that will resolve the conflict, it is important to think about steps that you can take in the future to make sure that this particular conflict does not come up again. Also this is an amazing time to think about future issues that may be similar to this conflict and think deeply about ways that you can solve and avoid similar conflicts.
Implement the solution to the conflict. Take simple steps to implement the solution. It could be a one step implementation or take more. It is best to keep the implementation aspect as simple as possible. This will allow for more success and make it more easily replicated throughout the market. Evaluate on a bi-monthly basis the success of your conflict resolution. Check in often with farmer market customers and vendors on the effectiveness of the resolution and consistently touch base about any other new conflicts that may come up.
Listen and be positive
While you are taking all these steps to resolve conflict it is important to keep in mind active listening skills. Active listening means truly being focused on what the other person has to say. Listening actively and carefully is a true step to help resolve conflicts. Being emotionally connected means being able to perceive and understand the emotions of others and yourself and how these emotions are related to the conflict.
Be patient with yourself and others through this process because it can be very draining and tiring. Take the time to reflect on your views and give others time to reflect as well. If it is a hot topic or emotionally charged, you may need to find an impartial party to help keep everyone on the same page. Be positive and think positively about yourself and members of your team and community. This conflict is something that can be solved, and use the skills outlined to help bring the conflict to resolution.
Ensure that communication is open and honest and work to hold all parties accountable. Taking these active steps will allow for your market to be more successful and will create a safe and positive environment for customers and vendors.
April Jones is the Market Manager of the Pinehurst Farmers Market in Columbia, South Carolina. April is also a member of the Anti-Racist Toolkit for Farmers Markets Working Group. This blog post is part of a series from April sharing her market management expertise. April has contributed content to many platforms, including national magazines such as Mother Earth News. Read more about April here.