Communication is important all the time, but communication during a crisis is essential. How has the current environment changed communication on your family farm? To help you out, I want to share tips from Patti Durand, a friend and an amazing transition specialist at Farm Credit Canada, as well as some extra tips that were shared during Connect Ag. 2019.
Communication: Why Should You Care?
Families who communicate on a regular basis with business meetings are 21 percent more profitable, according to research by Dr. David Kohl, a retired Professor of Agricultural Finance. Talking things out during this (and any other) crisis can boost your bottom line and will also likely help you alleviate the stress that everyone is likely feeling.
Patti Durand says, “Efficiencies found will save relationships and money. Each person will have clarity, allowing for better focus and sleep. Good habits for talking about the little stuff lead to better outcomes when talking about bigger decisions.”
You’ve heard me say before: you get the behaviour you accept. If communication needs improvement on your farm team, how are you addressing key habits?
You can only change you, so take care in how you deliver your messages and think about whether it warrants a face to face discussion rather than a quick text.
And when you are communicating, are you focused on listening with curiosity? Durand suggests channeling your inner 3-year-old and asks “Why? Why? Why?” This is a classic conflict resolution behaviour where you are clear in sharing your intent. Durand encourages families to assume that each of your family members is acting with good intentions.
Another key tip is to consider the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and work toward the common interests, collaborating to reach a common goal.
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Communication During a Crisis: Durand’s Tips
These tips from Patti Durand will help boost your communication during a crisis…but remember to practice them all year long!
1. Recognize the symptoms of a fight, flight or freeze response.
A fight, flight, or freeze response indicates that you’re not in a good state of mind for a conversation. Acknowledge that you need to talk about this issue after you’ve taken time to calm down first.
2. Use a scheduled meeting to deal with the issues.
This is what I call the “undiscussbulls.” Use your flipchart, talking stick (a soft toy), and your phones to record the pages of the flipchart. Rather than having lots of side conversations or blow-ups by the shop, come together with an agenda to make decisions as a group.
3. Recognize when a 3rd Party advisor needs to be brought in.
As a coach, I have even done this via the video computer tools (Zoom). A face-to-face meeting is impactful, but even being there by speakerphone can add huge value to the meeting.
4. Use guidelines for spending.
“Team members have the authority to make purchases of less than $____ without consulting the team. (Don’t fight about anything worth less than $____).
5. Have an agenda.
Having an agenda for the discussion works well in any family farm meeting. You can even write the agenda on a white board in the farm workshop. List the priority tasks for the week, assign names, delegate, then park the rest for jobs to do if everything else gets done. Email me at email@example.com if you would like a copy of Durand’s tips, and Dick Wittman’s sample meeting agenda.
Connect Ag Tips for Communication During a Crisis
These tips were discussed during Connect Ag 2019. These are vital elements that will improve your communication during a crisis or during any important family farm meeting.
1. Have all players at the table.
Think about who should be at the table. In my experience, it is usually best to include spouses, even if they are not active in farm roles. There are certain meetings that don’t translate well if everyone is not in the room. And make sure the meeting itself is distraction-free. Get childcare and shut off phones.
2. Determine the goal of the current meeting.
You can only prepare for very clear outcomes if you know what the goal of the current meeting is. Be sure that the meeting is focused and establishes concrete steps and timelines to reach a decision. Sometimes you may need a 24-hour rule to cool down if things are emotional, or to allow counsel while you sleep on a big decision.
3. Commit to addressing the big emotional problem in the room.
Use my key challenge audit sheet, which you can find here, to understand the key things you need to unpack in your communication.
4. Make sure the conversation is open and safe.
No yelling or disrespectful behaviour. You are running a multi-million-dollar business. There will be no drama if you choose not to show up for the performance! If this is not the current culture of your farm, then it is time to have an outside facilitator to help demonstrate positive communication habits.
5. Everyone has a voice at the table and TIME to express themselves.
Holding the talking stick means that you speak without interruption, and then ask for the stick if you want to give a response. This simple tool empowers all voices. Be prepared for emotions to be expressed if this is the first time all voices are being heard. Have Kleenex tissues handy and don’t be afraid of emotions being expressed.
6. Record the information that was shared.
You can do this easily with phone photos of the flipchart papers, or digitally with a meeting template (ask me for it: firstname.lastname@example.org). You can list what was discussed, assign a person to each task, and then give deadlines for completion.
7. Always have the date for the next meeting.
And make sure you put that date on the calendar before leaving the meeting! Meet when folks are rested, full and ready to make plans. One farm family meets every first Wednesday for operational planning, and the 3rd Wednesday of the month for strategy transition planning. Only 2 hours from 9 to 11 am. It is blocked off on everyone’s calendars and part of the farm routine. Designated meeting times might also work on Sunday night to plan for the week.
Communication during a crisis may be tough, but when you model trust, good listening, respect, and curiosity without judgment, many amazing things will happen, and a huge weight of stress will lift. It also will feel good on the balance sheet to be more profitable. You can do this!