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Embrace the conflict on your farm; don’t stop it

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 07 February 2020

Sitting on my stool in front of the third farm audience of the week, I should not have been surprised to receive the same question for the third time by text: “Elaine, how we do we stop the conflict on our farm?”

Don’t stop conflict. Change your mindset about fighting. Fight differently. Conflict that is resolved is a beautiful thing. When farm families get clarity about expectations, certainty in agreements and concensus about timelines, they make decisions that actually get things done.

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Continually avoiding conflict by slamming doors, yelling and then running to the shop or barn is not helpful.

What will set up your next family meeting for more conflict resolution is to dissect the conversation into intent, action and effect.

Intent

Intent is hidden deep inside the human mind’s overworked brain. Humans don’t read minds. You need to write out your thoughts on paper to give yourself a working script to explain your “why” to the farm team.

Why are you afraid to tell others, especially family, what you are truly thinking, feeling, needing or wanting? Is it because you have hit a wall of frustration and you are deciding to move on? Are you thinking about moving away from the farm because you are sick and tired of things that sabotage the certainty for your future? These kind of questions may manifest themselves in a statement like: “Either things start moving in my direction, or I am moving away from this hotbed of frustration!”

Action

Do actions really speak louder than words? Perhaps you are making the wrong assumptions regarding your dad’s silence on transition issues. He could be paralyzed by the fear of “not doing it right the first time,” so he chooses to do farm work rather than work “on” the farm business.

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My new hashtag for 2020 in agriculture is #healingstories4ag. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns to create a healthy, transparent forum for fierce yet courageous conversations.

If the thought of this sends your heart racing, settle down. Write out what you truly want for your family, your farm business, and your land ownership and wealth. These are the three circles of decision-making to help you sort through all the thoughts and angst clogging up your tired brain.

Action

Effect

Our words and actions can cause hurt or harm. Hurt erupts unintentionally. The guilty party won’t have a clue about the hurt unless we share the effect they have had on us. Harm is a different animal. Harm is toxic, as it is the result of someone intentionally wanting us to suffer.

Hurt and harm are both sad stories in agriculture, and they need to stop now. When you witness anger on your farm, ask the angry person if they are hurt, afraid or frustrated. Yelling, crying or walking away is a secondary emotion likely due to harm, fear or frustration.

So how do you decrease the anxiety over the uncertainty of your future?

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1. Talk with yourself first. Figure out very clearly what a good day on the farm looks like to you in 2020, 2021 and 2022. One year at a time. You may have heard that at the end of 2021, I will be spending more time playing with grandchildren and less time facilitating private farm family meetings. What do you want for yourself, your marriage, your family, your workplace and your friendships?

2. Visit a quiet place that gives you and your spouse joy and energy.Talk about what you see in your future vision for your family and your farm. Figure out the pinch points where you strongly disagree on the vision, and work toward a picture you can both happily live with. Many families are stuck because the founders have conflicting visions. No plan will be executed until Mom and Dad can create solutions to appreciate different perspectives. Remember, “Different is not wrong; it is just different.” I’d like to spend all of next month on Vancouver Island visiting siblings and friends, but my spouse thinks two weeks might be long enough. We’ll keep negotiating!

3. Talk to each of your adult children privately along with their partners or spouses. I see couples as a unit. You create respect and trust when each family unit hears your vision and dreams at the same time. There is nothing lost in translation when you have transparent and respectful conversations, listening intently to all of the voices at the table. A farm widow wept when she realized that keeping her daughters-in-law away from the decision-making table likely had caused more mistrust and showed huge disrespect.

Have family meetings

4. Set a date for a three-hour family meeting that includes the farm and non-farm members. Starting the conversation is the hardest part but, once you start the ball rolling, you’ll have the joy of taking the next action step. A family who tried this meeting on their own was disappointed that it “went off the rails” quickly. Invest a couple of seed bags’ worth ($1,400 or so) on a facilitated family meeting. My farmer says, “You get what you pay for.” It’s time for family fighting to become conflict resolution as a business risk management strategy.

5. Do what you promised you would do. Walk the talk and get your business plan going, the communication plan, your lifestyle plan and update your estate plan. Then you can tweak your contingency plan and talk about your future employment strategy for working on the farm as the “hired person or part-time employee.”

Do what your promised you would do

Call your lawyer to update your will. Seek out a financial planner to make sure you have enough income stream until you’re 102. Share decision-making with your successor and ask them how they would like you to mentor or teach them the skills they need.

6. Celebrate your new mindset for 2020. We all have 20-20 vision for the past, but yesterday is the past, and tomorrow is a promise. We really just have today, the present. Strong families celebrate the present. Remember: Be strong. end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Corey Lewis.

Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, has resources for your farm team at Farm Family Coach. Buy her Building Your Farm Legacy audio book at audible. Send her news of your updated will to claim your e-book prize.

Elaine Froese
  • Elaine Froese

  • Certified Farm Family Coach
  • Email Elaine Froese

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