I am curious – when you read this blogs’s headline, who did you think of first? Was it your new daughter-in-law, who asks piles of questions about why you do things the way you do on your farm? Did you imagine your son-in-law driving quickly over the gravel as he left the yard? Is it your mother-in-law, who just cannot seem to remember you need an email invite to block time for the shareholder’s meeting? Or is it the aging fatigued father-in-law who is having a hard time “letting go” of having the final say on big decisions for your farm team?
Our book “Farming’s In-Law Factor: how to have more harmony and less conflict on family farms“ is now almost 9 years old, but still going out the door to empower families to have each adult be seen and heard in the decision dynamics on their farm.
There are many overlapping systems in play on a family farm. Your family circle is your nuclear family which relates to your parents or in-laws, and your siblings, who may also be business partners or farm heirs.
The next circle is those who labour on the farm, family, and employees who are not related. The college grads who come back to the farm and are in this circle are keen to move to management.
The management circle is where key operational and financial decisions are made for the farm, and lastly, you have the ownership circle where the equity grows to the owners. Draw 4 circles on a blank piece of paper and put the names of the players in each circle.
If Dad is pulling back on labour but not training the successor to be a manager, then frustration grows as college grads do not want to be doing all the grunt work without compensation and power to make decisions for business growth. Fear of failure looms on the minds of founders who are not sure if the next generation is going to make huge mistakes and “lose the farm!”
How do you make sure you’re seen and heard in the decision-making process as an adult successor or as an in-law? Is there a difference?
It depends on the culture of your farm.
Do the parents, and founders, acknowledge or value the input of their successors and their spouses?
Or is the culture’s unwritten rule “Let’s just keep it simple and not let the in-laws be any part of decision-making!” OUCH. So, the first question is, what does your farm team truly value? The emotionally healthy farm teams value honesty, respect, teamwork, skill affirmation, and curiosity. They don’t pre-judge the outcomes of tough situations and they seek to explore all possible solutions, research, and ask powerful questions.
“I’m just curious, daughter-in-law – what are you needing at this moment to have a better understanding of your role and our expectations of you on this farm?” Practice asking this question. It is a powerful question.
Listen to her answer. If you have a son-in-law, you can ask the same question, as they are typically caught in a different conflict resolution style and have married into the family dynamic of your daughter’s story.
Here’s a helpful communication framework developed by Dr. Marshal Rosenberg who authored “Non-Violent Communication. A language of life: life changing tools for healthy relationships.”
- Observe: what are the behaviours you are seeing? Do your in-laws go “silent” when you are in the room? Are you being excluded from farm business decision-making and then hearing all about it at your supper table from your frustrated spouse? Ask the founders, directly, for clarity. “I’m just curious – what is your intention for helping me understand the operation of this farm, do you intend for me to stay out of the decision-making process? That is not how I expected my role to be.” Be careful that you language does not to make judgments like “you always, you never…or being labelled as “high maintenance or stupid”. An observation might be: “When I see you invite only the successors to the farm business meeting, it makes me feel like there is a reason why I am being left out, and I would like to know why”.
- Feeling: you need to identify and express your feelings. “I feel scared when you say that.” Rosenberg says “By developing a vocabulary of feelings that allows us to clearly and specifically name or identify our emotions, we can connect easily with each other. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts. Hopefully, your feeling vocabulary is larger than mad, glad, or sad. Click here to check out Lindsay Braman’s helpful emotion behaviour wheel.
- Needs: If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met. I can relay countless stories of in-laws needing to have more respect, and founders asking for the same thing. I often have said, “We get the behaviour we accept, and love does not read minds.” Are you making assumptions about what your farm team is thinking, feeling, needing, and wanting? Are you able to ask the other person, “What do you need at this moment? Or in the next month? Or when you step back?” I am fairly certain there are many farm moms who would drop to their knees if someone sincerely asked “Mom, what do you need right now?” Rosenberg believes emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.
“Are you able to take responsibility for your intentions and your actions? You cannot fix other people. You can choose your own response and be curious with great questions about what the intentions of others really are. Remember the basic tenet of conflict resolution is to share your intent – your “why”- because we cannot read your mind. The words and actions you create will influence us, and we give you feedback about what that feels like to us, and what actions we need to move forward.”
- Requests: You can make a request for certain behaviours and actions. What do you want from me? Be clear and use positive language to ask for what you want.
Farmers often tell me they don’t have time to read. Order Non-violent Communication as an audiobook for under 20 bucks.
We all long to be seen and heard on our farm teams. Let me know how new language and insights empower your decision-making.
Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, CHICoach is building an online community for folks to be seen and heard as they grow their families and business. Visit here to share your thoughts or ask for a discovery call.
Did you enjoy How to be Seen and Heard at your Farm’s Decision-Making Table: Tips for In-laws? You might want to check these articles out too:
Stop the in-law rant, change your behaviour
Crippled By Fear of Court