Managing Stubborn Farmers… - Elaine Froese | Canada’s Farm Whisperer | Your go-to expert for farm families who want better communication and conflict resolution to secure a successful farm transition


Managing Stubborn Farmers…

by | Jul 12, 2011 | Uncategorized

“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
  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.

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