Blogs

“Managing Stubborn Farmers…”

“My way or the highway.” doesn’t work. You need to find the middle ground.

January 12, 2009

“I called you two years ago, and am now putting my foot down. Things have gotten worse.” A forlorn farm woman is describing her life with two stubborn farmers; a father-in-law who is reluctant to hand over any management decisions, and a husband who is bickering at the supper table, due to his frustration.

Stubborn farmers are folks who are not willing to talk openly about their management and ownership plans for the farm business. They see themselves as “still 22” and at 62 or 72 have no plans to make any major changes to the operation. They are convinced that the best decisions are either their way or no way. They are stuck as “either/or” thinkers.

Why are they stubborn?
It must feel good to them because they don’t really understand that they have choices and options to behave otherwise. They don’t see the benefits and profitability of open, safe, respectful communication that considers another point of view. They tend to lack trust and respect for the rest of the farm team. Due to their low emotional intelligence, they avoid conflict at all costs and don’t value the relationships in the family business enough to stretch out and make significant changes to their communication style or conflict resolution results.

They are stuck with stubbornness because they are using filters on their brain they don’t realize are there. They have decided not to like the daughter-in-law, thus everything she does and says is filtered with a negative view. This filter doesn’t allow a positive perception of the daughter-in-law’s ideas or actions. Stubborn farmers are wallowing in what William Bridges had entitled “The Neutral Zone,” a place of high stress and anxiety. They are in that zone because of the uncertainty and lack of clarity about the future plan or new beginnings.

Family farms are stuck with the muck of stubbornness because they do not have a decision-making system or communication plan for having regular, respectful business meetings with written agendas, and actionable timelines. Many farm folks are simply going through the motions of the daily grind of chores and fire-fighting crises as they arise, rather than planning for change. They are not sure where they are at financially, or with their business vision.

Solutions for stubbornness:
Recognize that “either/or” thinking is best handled with the word “and”. The polarities that exist in business like change vs. stability, or action vs. planning, or dependence vs. independence are causing lots of conflict on family farms. People need to see the positive and negative sides of both poles of the issues…the polarities.

Dependence is about letting go and creating more independence for the next generation.

Planning is about making management changes with a timeline that meets expectations and is clearly defined regarding the leadership roles and functions of the farm team.

Work-life buoyancy is about putting family life on the priority list, and actually having systems in place to work well and also have time for play. A stubborn farmer would say we “work first, then play.” Farmers with positive filters who understand polarities would say “we have work to do until Sunday, then we will play. The work will always be there.”

Managing stubborn farmers takes curiosity to explore what filters are blocking new ways of thinking, and exploring the upsides of the issues that seem to cause grief on the farm.

Tools to manage stubbornness:

  1. Learn more about the idea of polarities, I have taken a course on this at www.resolutionskills.ca
  2. Work on a family code of conduct with a policy on resolving conflict at a formalized business meeting. At the meeting, use a talking stick, set an agenda, and email minutes to an accountability partner.
  3. Put dates and timelines on important decisions, and pay attention to results.
  4. Fill up the appreciation factor. People are likely to be more receptive to moving forward when they feel respect and have their opinions heard.
  5. Read Barry Johnson’s work “Polarity Management…Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems.”
  6. Identify your farm team’s “unsolvable problems” and then give them a positive and negative description.

Soon you will be managing the stuck points, maximizing the positive upsides of the issues that drive you crazy, and learning to deal with stubbornness in a new way.

Let me know where you think you have an unsolvable problem on your farm, and we’ll work out a new way to explore the issue.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.

$15

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Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
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Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
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Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
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James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
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G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
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Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
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Audience Member,
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Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
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Megan, BC Rancher
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Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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