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When I was a very small 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 don’t know how to sing “Stille Nacht” but I do know that the approach of Christmas brings good memories for some farm families, and 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. Many folks are weary this year. 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. It can be good or bad.

For some people 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’s “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.

Silence is bad when used as a form of revenge, inflicting purposeful hurt, stopping the flow of talking and listening. Silence should not be a form of violence. As a coach, I tell farm families the 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 curiosity.

“I am curious why you cannot tell me what is bothering you.”
“What would you like me to do differently in order to re-boot our conversations?”
“I am sorry for the hurt I have caused you. Let me know now what I need to do to make amends. I want to 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.”

Long-time 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, Al Switzler. The authors encourage us to “start with the heart, stay focused on what you really want.”

What do you want for Christmas?

“Elaine, I want a happy family. I don’t 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 don’t 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.

  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, teach you how to use a flipchart, and help you learn to paraphrase what you are really saying. Some folks find it helpful to do the meeting in a neutral space like a hotel meeting room. See www.cafanet.ca to find an ag. coach near you. With our new virtual reality, I’m coaching folks all across Canada via zoom. Visit www.elainefroese.com/contact to book a free discovery call in the new year.
  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 don’t 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. Challenge assumptions, talk about your intentions!
  6. Share your emotional story briefly. Most farmers I know are very uncomfortable with sharing feelings, but they really get the facts. Your story is important, and you’ll likely get more traction in the dialogue by sharing the facts. “By January 2020 you promised that you would sign the transfer agreements. We are about to enter 2021, and nothing has been signed, that’s 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, they are not willing to even talk about family issues until the business conflicts and agreements are solved first. Let me help you find harmony through understanding.
  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.com and sing it together!

Did you enjoy this post on When Silent Nights Don’t Bring Peace To Your Farm? You might want to check these articles out too:

Trading overwhelm for mental rest…When you can’t go south for the winter
How to Start the Succession Planning Conversation
Spoiled Farm Children and Farm Succession: How to Stop the Temper Tantrums

Building Your Farm LegacyLooking for a thoughtful Christmas Gift? Give your loved one the gift of a farm legacy.

Building Your Farm Legacy: Tools to Empower Better Family Communication Buy now on Audible!

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Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
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“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.”
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G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
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Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
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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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