Lessons from the Combine - 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


Lessons from the Combine

by | Jun 14, 2014 | Uncategorized

Harvest is a favourite time of year. As a combine driver I join the excitement of bringing in the crop as efficiently as possible. I enjoy long hours of solitude on the field, with lots of time to ponder what’s happening  in our family and life in general. This is the picture when the crops are evenly ripe, dry, and the weather is cooperating. There are also the loud “thunks” when the header plugs, or the frustration of catching a clump of mud, but usually things get back into flow.

Plugging the combine is a great metaphor for resistance. You can’t push too much too fast through the powerful machine. Farm people are going through tremendous changes again this year with new challenges, and we get frustrated when our family doesn’t want what we want.

Why don’t you want what I want?” is the title of Rick Maurer’s practical book on working through 3 levels of resistance: Level 1  “I don’t get it.”  Level 2: “I don’t like it” and Level 3: “I don’t trust you.”   Maurer believes we can muster support for our ideas without hard sell, manipulation or power plays. He encourages readers to stay engaged with the person…seek understanding, favourable reactions, and develop trust.

I’ve experienced resistance to change in farm families when I’ve tried to present too many ideas for change too quickly. Things plug up fast when people aren’t given time to see the same picture we see. “When people are afraid they will lose something important, when their fear response kicks in…their emotional brain takes over and limits their ability to stay engaged with us.” (Maurer).

Smooth combine operators make sure they feed the machine with a good consistent speed, checking the monitors. We need to check our understanding with our families, planting seeds of change gradually, and paying attention to emotional monitors.

Beeping in the cab alerts us to problems. What alerts us in our conversations that we are really getting it, and listening to the other person’s viewpoints?

Do they understand?

Are they reacting negatively or positively?

Is there sufficient trust between us for them to support us?

Maurer suggests 6 principles of engagement to help move through resistance:

1.Know your intention: Focus on issues instead of positions. The key  intention of combining is to put all the grain in the tank, and not leave a trail of grain on the ground! The issue is trusting the guy who sets the sieves, and checking the tank and the trail behind you.  If you are intending to make changes in your farm family, have you developed the trust you need for support?

2.Consider the context.  The focus of getting the crop off sets the context , other things are lower priority. Time your conversations well, consider where they are taking place, and the quality of the relationship. People in harvest are focused on that priority. Maybe you’ve been trying to make changes with people who are just too tired to think or change!

3.Avoid Knee Jerk Reactions.  Slamming the hydrostatic lever can put your face in the windshield of your combine. You need to know your triggers or “hot buttons” in conversations and avoid them. Your goal is to seek understanding and build commitment.

4.Pay Attention.  When a cutting knife breaks, you get a trail of heads standing…evidence that you need to stop and change the broken part.  Do you listen to others to be changed? Do you care about what the other person has to say?  Make time for feedback. Listen. Be willing to be influenced by what you hear.

5. Explore Deeply. Messing around with the concaves is exploring deeply into the guts of the combine. You hope you don’t have to do this in the field, but it happens. People are afraid of the unknown,  that is why farmers resist talking about a different way of working or living off the farm. Families need to find a safe way to talk and explore possibilities for common ground.  Maurer says you know when you have explored enough when the person shifts from “you to us”, and it feels like a weight has just lifted.

“Have I answered all of your questions?” “Is there anything I can provide for you ?”

6.Find Ways to Connect.  When my trucker comments that I am cutting too high, I make adjustments, and don’t steam with the criticism. The real concern is to do a great job, and not leave too much straw for the cultivation guy to handle. Maurer’s process for people to connect is to identify the real fear or concern. State what is important to you.

Then, turn that statement of concern into a statement of what you both want.

A farm spouse may say “ I am afraid that we are not making decisions about our life off the farm yard, and that is impacting our children’s decisions. It is important to me that we have a plan for our new home, and the way we will continue to work . We both want to stay involved, and find a way to live in harmony with our working children.”

As a Farm Family Coach ™ I am deeply committed to helping farm families work through the hard issues and choices that face them. Check out Maurer’s website at www.beyondresistance.com.     Have a great harvest!

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