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First of all, my apologies to any readers named “Nancy”, this is not really about you. I have coined the phrase “nasty Nancy” to describe anger-filled farm coaching clients. These are the folks who are extremely negative, they threaten to leave the room and the conversation often. They are really closed off to any awareness of how their cruel habits are driving the farm to “rack and ruin”.

Lest you think that I am talking about your farm or ranch, please be aware that the names in this column have been changed to protect the innocent, and my scenarios are composite stories of learnings along my coaching journey.

I understand the value of being thankful and appreciative. I think it has been written many times before that we should be acting out “thanks living” every day of our lives.

It saddens me to see farm families grasping for solutions to the age-old problem of lack of appreciation, and missing general kindness and civility from the founders of the farm. The employees who had one day hoped to be equity partners in a thriving ag business, leave the farm in their prime because they just can’t take being taken for granted, anymore. If nasty Nancy is married to loving Larry, Larry may well decide to end the marriage contract and spend more time with his cows (or vice versa.)

Bullying behaviour from workaholic founders or early exits of potential, well-intentioned successors is costing farms way too much in terms of emotional relational capital, and affecting the balance sheet. Sometimes the successors are nasty, too, which just adds fuel to the conflict fire, rather than addressing issues.

We reap what we sow. If readers could tell me who sowed all the foxtail barley in pasture fields, we might attack the source, and cultivate away the problem. Foxtail barley rubbed up against skin and socks is itchy and irritating to hikers. The same holds true for minor irritations that evolve into large tirades that crush any hope of things changing for the better. You get the behaviour you allow or accept. It is time to say “let’s practice being more thankful for each other’s contributions to our business, and our family.”

Enough of the negative effects of ingratitude. How do you challenge the behaviour?

  1. Acknowledge that each of us as adult farmers is responsible for our responses to other’s behaviours and words. I get to choose my response. They say that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vineyards. What small random acts of kindness and thankfulness can you intentionally create this week?
  2. Past behaviour tends to be a very good indicator of future performance. This is why next-gen farmers leave for other careers or farms where they will be appreciated for their skills and insights. They don’t have to work with “time-bomb” style fathers forever. (see Stephen Poulter’s book “The Father Factor.)
  3. Now that you are an expert at getting maximum production and efficiency out of your fields and livestock, it is time to brush up on your human resource or people skills. I know your cows understand you, it’s time to start understanding the power of appreciation and gratitude showered on respectful partners, family, and employees. One of the greatest stumbling blocks to stalling a great business continuance plan (a.k.a. succession plan) is lack of appreciation.
  4. Eating your gold alone is a lonely endeavor, and you can’t take it with you when you pass away, ie. die. Some farmers see gifts as their preferred way of being affirmed, maybe in the form of cash, land, or bonus canola cheques. It’s time to figure out how your way of being affirmed as a decent bloke in the business is best confirmed. Do you want words of verbal affirmation? Do you want quality time with your family? Do you want action or acts of service, such as the tools being put away in the shop without a tirade? Perhaps just a firm squeeze on the shoulder for a job well done will keep you humming until the killing frost.
  5. Use regular farm business meetings with issues on the agenda to attack the problem, and not the person.

The folks that entrust me to facilitate the sacred space of farm family meetings know well what relief feels like when the words of appreciation, forgiveness, and gratitude start flowing.

The emotional cost of being a “nasty Nancy or cruel Charlie” is immeasurable if you lose the relationship of your son or daughter and their children. The financial cost of taking others for granted can cause huge conflict avoidance and fear that keeps folks away from the source of fierce conflict triggers. This means that farms that need infrastructure changes, or capital planning re-structuring, don’t get things done, because everyone is avoiding the bully, and staying clear of being un-appreciated.

Fear is a horrible motivator for lasting change. It’s way better to be proactive and challenge the nastiness, rather than just accepting it as something that no one has the power to address or change. Find your voice, and speak up!

Let’s resolve to be emotionally healthy adult farmers. Look in the mirror first. Chat with your spouse for helpful, loving feedback. Embrace the behaviours that are going to groom the next generation to want to love being on the farm for the next 30 years, and create an emotionally rich legacy. That’s the relational capital that costs thousands when someone leaves hurting, and the balance sheet never quite recovers from the high cost of re-training or finding a passionate replacement.

If you are quiet and shy, find a non-verbal way to express your thanks to your farm team. If you are talkative, use a novel approach to show others how much you really care about them feeling appreciated. Break bread together, tell stories of the best part of this year so far, and find a way to build up the relational capital of your farm. In the end, it’s really the richness of relationships that will outlast your time on earth.


Elaine Froese, CAFA, CSP, CHI Coach is wired to help farm families find harmony through understanding.

Visit Elaine’s store or watch her new speaker reel.

Did you enjoy The Emotional and Financial Cost of Nastiness? You might want to check these articles out too:

Conflict Resolution Between Farming Siblings (Especially Brothers)
How To Communicate To The Different Generations On The Farm
How to talk to your Boomer Dad and Mom

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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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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.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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