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Get Unstuck on the Farm The Power of a Heartfelt LetterSometimes we have to go back to basics to keep healthy change happening on our farms. Lately, in my transition seminars, I have been encouraging frustrated young farmers to write a heartfelt letter of intent to their founding parents. People who are stuck with a large degree of anxiety and overwhelm from not knowing the certainty of the future are caught in what William Bridges has termed “the neutral zone.”  You want to get out of neutral and moving towards a more certain future.

Let’s look at five types of letters that might be helpful to your situation

  1. Exploration
  2. Collaboration
  3. Explanation
  4. Confrontation
  5. Affirmation

You might want to take parts of each of these types of letters to accomplish your specific goals. Here’s how I have seen them used in my coaching work.

Exploration

Exploration is the discovery process of seeking out the possibilities of how you might like to address an issue with another party. You are exploring the various options ahead of you. For a young farmer, it might be exploring a new business plan with the founders or folks who hold most of the equity in the operation. In our case, our son used a marketing contract with a hemp processing company to explore the possibility of growing hemp on our certified seed farm. His father agreed to the plan, and we now have three years of hemp growing experience. What opportunities do you want to explore on your farm? What letters of reference or testimonials do you have in your research to prove that it is a workable choice to engage? Writing the letter will help crystalize your commitment to the project and help think things through for your business plan.

Collaboration

The purpose of this letter is to agree on a working contract. I use this letter in my speaker agreements to be clear about timelines, dates, venues, supplies, fees, and expenses. When you want to collaborate on a project with a family member you usually talk about it lots, but how many documents are in place to be clear about roles and responsibilities? Many farm folks I know wish that they would have taken a few more steps to get things in writing so that they could refer to the original goals and expectations. A shareholder’s agreement is a documented letter of collaboration. Do you understand what your shareholder’s agreement says? Do you need to update it?

[Tweet “5 types of #letters that can help #farmers clearly #communicate in times of hardship.”]

Explanation

The Explanation letter is a powerful script to follow when you want to convey your thoughts and intent at a meeting but are not sure that you will be able to say everything quite the right way that you want it to go. I have seen this type of letter used as a powerful tool by a farm widow who was distressed that her adult children were fighting over how the father’s estate had been carried out. She used the letter to read her thoughts at the opening of the family meeting. The children listened intently while their mother conveyed her angst at their bickering. When the tone of reconciliation had been set by the mother’s expectations conveyed in her letter, the children discussed their next steps towards a better family relationship with an understanding of why the estate was executed in a certain manner. People cannot read minds, so letters are a vehicle for building up understanding and starting robust courageous conversations.

Confrontation

Stop texting when you are angry. Put that energy towards collecting your thoughts on paper in a word document that you can craft until it sounds right. I have used this approach when adults want to deliver a strong message of concern to another adult. In one case it was crafted by a husband and wife, then hand delivered to the party that needed to receive the message of concern. This took time and deliberation over carefully chosen words. The power of hand delivery emphasized the openness for ongoing conversation and the seriousness of the need for the conflict to be dealt with. You can make this even more impactful if the letter is handwritten, as long as your writing is easy to read. Sometimes these confrontation letters are hard to receive, particularly if you are like me and would rather just have a face to face conversation. Use the letter as a starting point, and as an invitation to have a face to face conversation.

Affirmation

One of my love languages is verbal affirmation. As a writer, I also love the power of the written word through cards and notes of affirmation. They are nice to see on social media, but those are fleeting comments. You can hold a card or letter of affirmation in your hand, and pull it out again on hard days when you need a word of encouragement. I have seen this powerful letter used by a father-in-law who sought to empower his talented daughter-in-law. He wrote her a letter stating the many reasons why he thought that they should work together on the farm. That letter started a great relationship, and affirmed open, loving, respectful communication between them as a team.

Some younger people have not learned cursive writing, and therefore only print or keyboard their messages. Our local agent who sells driver licenses has taken to teaching young teens how to craft a great signature! I find this hard to believe, but a reflection of how the written word is changing in our culture. Writing a letter to break down the barrier of anxiety about your future on the farm, or the plans for the fairness factor in estate plans is a place to start. You can be clear about your intent not to cause harm, stating your hope to gain clarity of expectations for the future. You can think about the words you carefully choose.

Please consider what type of letter you need to be crafting today. If you have any questions, I’d love for you to write me a letter.

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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,
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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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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.”
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