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When Silent Nights Do Not Bring Peace to Your FarmWhen I was a very young farm girl, dressed in my homemade red velvet jumper, I looked forward to “Edie” Christmas on Boxing Day with my cousins. I recall my great-grandmother singing “Silent Night” to us in German. Little did I know then that I would marry into a family whose first language was German. I am not sure how to sing “Stille Nacht,” but I do know that the approach of Christmas brings good memories for some farm families. Unfortunately, it brings fear for others.

“Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Not for those who are longing for emotional peace on their farms. These folks have just recovered from the long, intense harvest of 2016, yet they still feel wiped out. They are “walking on eggshells” with their families since they rarely converse. The periods of extended silence are growing longer, instead of shorter.  The calm on their farms may be a gorgeous starry night, but inside the family dynamic, the silence is killing them.

Silence is a Form of Communication Manipulation

Silence can be good or bad.

For those who are given very little airtime, silence is an opportunity for them to gather their thoughts, and then they can speak. Silence, according to author Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations, is the way to “do the heaving lifting” in courageous conversations.  When I am facilitating a family meeting, I use my beanie baby bull as a talking stick to let each person have a chance to speak. Sometimes the years of hurt and frustration erupt into tense sharing, but that is the exact moment that creates breakthroughs in understanding, tears, and a way to move to deeper clarity and change.

Silence is bad when used as a form of revenge, inflicting purposeful hurt, and stopping the flow of talking and listening. Silence should not be a form of violence. As a coach, I tell my farm families that silence needs to be broken or I will not work with them. People shut up for many reasons. To open them up, you need to ask questions about their “why” and come from a place of curiosity.

  • “I am curious why you cannot tell me what is bothering you.”
  • “What would you like me to do differently to reboot our conversations?”
  • “I am sorry for the hurt I have caused you. Let me know now what I need to do to make amends and have meaningful talks with you.”

I once sat in a family meeting where the father was notorious for “shutting down” and cutting himself off from the communication of the family.  He was refusing to be part of the coaching process, so I stopped and said:

“Your sons are trying to be part of the legacy of this farm. Today is the day for action. If you choose to continue to block this process, you are going to lose your family and your farm. Choose now.

If you do not speak, I will leave now, as I cannot work with people who use silence as a weapon.”

Longtime readers will appreciate my love for books. The best book for ending the silence and violence on your farm is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. The authors encourage us to “start with the heart and stay focused on what you really want.”

[Tweet “#Farmers, don’t let silence ruin your #Christmas. Fix the #farm family issues with these tips.”]

What Do You Want for Christmas?

“Elaine, I want a happy family. I do not care what this farm is worth; I just want everyone to come home to share turkey and make great memories.”

“I want my in-laws to understand that I do not feel accepted in this family. I have shut down because I am so tired of trying to have my voice heard.”

“I just want my folks to quit changing their minds about the future. We need some firm written agreements and no more empty promises for change.”

There is hope for your farm ahead. All can be calm and bright. Here are eight simple steps to help break the silence:

1. Stop Your All or Nothing Thinking

These are polarities; issues that need to be managed. Start saying “This is why I want this, AND for me this would be the solution. What do you think?”

2. Make it Safe to Share in Your Presence

Buy or find a soft toy to use as a talking stick. Write out some guidelines for your family code of conduct. “In this family, we use respectful tones, don’t swear, and stay in the conversation.” Avoidance is no longer a behavioral option. You always get to choose your response.

3. Hire an Outside Facilitator or Coach to Navigate the Tension

Outside facilitators or coaches can teach you how to use a flipchart, and help you learn to paraphrase what you are saying. Some folks find it helpful to do the meeting in a neutral space like a hotel meeting room. See www.cafanet.com to find an AG Coach near you.

4. Pray About How You are Going to Apologize for Past Hurt

The message of Christmas is that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, was born to reconcile man to God. If you are not a Christian, you still operate with a model of forgiveness. If you do not have any model for extending an ‘olive branch” you better get one FAST!

5. Share Your Intentions

The classic slide I share in almost every presentation is INTENT>ACTION>EFFECT. Why are you doing what you are doing? What actions and words are causing hurt? Do you know what effect your words or silence are having on the rest of your farm team?  ASK!  Your actions are given meaning by others, and sometimes that is the result of observations mixed with assumptions. Find out what is being assumed, and talk about your intentions!

6. Share Your Emotional Story Briefly

Most farmers I know are very uncomfortable with sharing feelings, but they rarely get the facts. Your story is important, and you will likely get more traction in the dialogue by sharing the facts. “By January 2016 you promised you would sign the transfer agreements. We are about to enter 2017, and nothing has been signed, that is why I am so distraught Dad!”

7. Agree on the Points That You Can Agree on and Then Build from There

Do you agree that you want to be a family? Some folks I coach are so angry with the family that they are not willing to even talk about family issues until the business conflicts and agreements are solved first.

8. Celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day

Schedule a family meeting after the 25th, not on Christmas day. Find the words to Silent Night, “Stille Nacht,” on YouTube and sing it together!

I wish you all a happy and boisterous holiday!

Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
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
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
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.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
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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