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Tips to help you communicate

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020

It warms my coaching heart to sit in a workshop with a group of smart women in agriculture who truly want better communication on our farms.

Some of the following communication tips were generated by Farm Credit Canada’s Patti Durand, who specializes in farm transition, at Connect – The Heart of the Farm, presented by Women in Ag in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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Why should you care?

Families who communicate on a regular basis with business meetings are 21% more profitable, according to Dr. David Kohl’s research. Talking things out in advance can likely help alleviate stress during busy times of the year.

Durand said, “Efficiencies found will save relationships and money. Each person will have clarity, allowing for better focus and sleep. Good habits for talking about the little stuff lead to better outcomes when talking about bigger decisions.”

You’ve heard me say before: You get the behavior you accept. If communication needs improvement on your farm team, start with addressing key habits.

You can only change you, so take care in how you deliver your messages. Think about whether a topic warrants a face-to-face discussion rather than a quick, missile-like text.

Do you listen with curiosity? Durand suggested channeling your inner 3-year-old and asking, “Why? Why? Why?” Clarity in sharing your intent is classic conflict resolution behavior.

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Durand encouraged families to assume that each family member is acting with good intentions.

Another key tip is to consider the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and work toward the common interests, collaborating to reach a common goal.

Here are some more tips from Durand to strengthen farm communication:

  • Recognize the symptoms of a fight, flight or freeze response. When you’re not in a good state of mind for a conversation, acknowledge that you need time to calm down before you talk about the issue.

  • Use a scheduled meeting to deal with issues that arise. Rather than having a lot of side conversations or blow-ups by the shop, come together with an agenda to make decisions as a group. Use a flip chart, talking stick or soft toy to navigate the conversation. Afterwards, use phone cameras to record the pages of the flip chart.

  • Recognize when a third-party adviser is needed. Face-to-face meetings are impactful, but even having them on speaker phone or video chat can add huge value to the meeting.

  • Use guidelines for spending. For example, team members have the authority to make purchases of less than X amount without consulting the team, or don’t fight about anything worth less than Y amount.

  • Set an agenda on a white board in the farm workshop or office. List the priority tasks for the week, assign names, delegate, then park the rest for jobs to do if everything else gets done.

In addition to Durand’s tips, here are some more tips I find useful in farm communication:

  • Have all players at the table. Think about who should be at the table. In my experience, it is usually best to include spouses, even if they are not active in farm roles. There are certain meetings that don’t translate well if everyone is not in the room.

  • Share information. This is easily done with phone photos of the flip chart papers or digitally with a meeting template. You can list what was discussed, assign a person to the task and then give it a deadline for completion.

  • Everyone has a voice at the table and time to express themselves. Holding the talking stick means you speak without interruption. Others can ask for the stick if they want to give a response. This simple tool empowers all voices. Be prepared for emotions to be expressed if this is the first time all voices are being heard.

  • Conversation is open and safe. If this is not the current culture of your farm, then it is time to have an outside facilitator to help demonstrate positive communication habits.

  • Always have the date for the next meeting before leaving the meeting. Meet when people are rested, full and ready to make plans. One farm family meets every first Wednesday for operational planning and the third Wednesday of the month for strategy transition planning. The meetings are from 9 to 11 a.m. It is blocked off on everyone’s calendars and part of the farm routine. Designated meeting times might also work on Sunday night to plan for the week.

  • Set a goal for the meeting. Be sure meetings are focused, and establish concrete steps and timelines to reach a decision. Sometimes you may need a 24-hour rule to cool down if things are emotional or allow counsel while you sleep on a big decision.

  • Get child care and shut off the phones. Your meetings need to be distraction-free.

  • Commit to addressing the big emotional problem in the room. Identify the specific challenges your farm team is facing to understand the key things you need to unpack in your communication.

  • Be kind. Being clear is kind. No yelling or disrespectful behavior. You are running a multimillion-dollar business.

When you model trust, good listening, respect and curiosity without judgment, many amazing things will happen, and a huge weight of stress will lift. It may also impact the balance sheet with more profits.  end mark

Elaine Froese coaches #healingstoriesforag from her farm in Boissevain, Manitoba. Download her Farm Family Toolkit at Elaine Froese.

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