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Saying sorry at harvest (and when backing into things)

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 September 2019

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have real-life examples of how I make mistakes. One harvest, I was the combine driver who backed into the fuel truck while I was unloading my auger for cleanout to move to the next field. I’ve had many accidents while backing up, so I should have checked my mirrors.

The damage was a bent hydraulic shaft over the straw choppers, which was fixed with a $400 part and no downtime, thankfully.



I told my husband I was sorry for the mistake, and I thanked my son for quickly tracking down the part. Our employee also now understands the importance of not parking vehicles behind me. (You’ll understand that too by the end of this article.)

Here are some practical ways to make things right from Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, authors of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. Chapman is also the author of The Five Love Languages, so you may be familiar with his practical approach.

There are five ways to say sorry.

1. “I’m sorry.” First express regret. I was quick to do this after I heard the thud of hitting that fuel truck. I also expressed regret another time to the semi driver who grazed me as I was backing my SUV out of my garage onto my lane, rushing to get to the post office. I now always look down the lane before cranking out of the driveway. Sometimes expressing regret is all it takes to make restitution with the person you have offended, but recall the young kids whom you’ve asked to say “sorry,” and it comes out quickly from their little mouths but with the wrong tone of voice and no further change of behavior. That’s not a good thing.

2. “I was wrong.” People who can accept responsibility for their hurtful actions get more traction with spouses who expect more than a quick sorry. This means you accept the fact you made a mistake and own up to it. I was not going to sneak around the next field with a dented shaft. Honesty is always the best policy in my book. Someone has torn a piece of sheet metal out of our shed, but we never found anyone to own up to the mistake. Damage is done, but no one accepts responsibility.


3. “How can I make it right?”  I’m embarrassed to say it, but I have a third backing up story to tell. When I backed my husband’s pickup into a car parked in my blind spot, with the pickup hitch making a perfectly square hole in the car’s front bumper, I was angry the driver had not used his horn to stop me. I had to make it right with a $700 check to pay for a new car bumper, and I no longer drive the truck in town. Besides an apology, some people want to know what is going to change in the future with your actions so you can make things right. In harvest season, when stress is high, you really need to focus on a positive attitude to catch people doing things right, so you can build up the emotional bank account of all the harvesters. Be willing to take some difficult feedback if you are cutting too high or the meals need to be timelier to the field. Don’t take things personally but seek out the ways other people would like to be appreciated. Watch the tone of your voice on the FM radios. Long hours, dusty and itchy backs, and poor yields make people cranky if you are not careful to check your attitude. Just making fresh, hot coffee for my son and our employees “makes lots of things right” during busy field times.

4. “I want to change.” Genuinely repenting. In harvest season, you have habits around how you like to open up a field and the direction of the swaths. You likely have habits of how you like to milk the cows. Sometimes getting people to adopt a new way of doing things is stressful until they can see the benefit. The swather driver needs to have some compassion for the grain-cart guy or trucker as to the pattern created by the swaths. In the barn, you need a system for delivering difficult feedback and be willing to change your behavior. Are you open to a suggestion to change your ways? Make a mind shift to be able to ask: “Is there something you would like me to do differently?”

5. “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” Requesting forgiveness takes courage, but the result is that you will feel better and lighter when you are forgiven. I appreciate a spouse who doesn’t yell or swear at me when I cause damage with backing up. He forgives me, and we move on. Chapman says, “For those with a controlling personality, asking forgiveness is out of their comfort zone emotionally. To successfully learn to speak the apology language of requesting forgiveness or, for that matter, any of the apology languages, an extremely controlling individual will likely require the help of a counselor or friend who is willing to be honest with him or her.”

So now you are primed for better conflict resolution with how to apologize in the right way. Here are Chapman’s tips of what not to say when apologizing:

  • Haven’t you gotten over that yet?
  • Why do you always … ?
  • What’s the big deal?
  • Give me a break.
  • You just need to get over it.
  • You sound like your mother.

Try this instead:

  • I did it, and I have no excuse.
  • Can you ever forgive me?
  • I realize talk is cheap. I know I need to show you how I will change.
  • I will try to make this up to you by …
  • You have every right to be upset.

Have a very safe and successful harvest. Take care of everyone on your team and yourself with good sleep, great food and gracious attitudes. I will do my best this year not to back into anything.  end mark


Elaine Froese is a certified farm family coach. Her latest book, Building Your Farm Legacy, is at audible and Elaine Foese.