Being able to talk freely with your farm team and feel that they understand what you are needing is a huge gift! Farm families in business sometimes get stuck with problems when they get trapped in the “blame game” of blaming someone else for their problems. You might have to accept that you can’t make other people change, but you can change how you respond and handle things.
Talking Is the Work
Decide today that you are going to become more self-aware and self-controlled around the way you communicate to your farm team. I strongly believe that good communication is the foundation of successful farms. Talking and listening well is the ultimate risk management tool.
So, let’s refresh your communication toolbox.
Accept that Solving Problems is Up to You
Take responsibility for the level of skill in sharing your ideas, thoughts, and feelings in the culture of your farm workplace. Take charge and take action. You’ll get nowhere if you expect the communication problems to fix themselves.
Know Your Communication Style
Know how you like to solve problems. You might be action oriented, very direct and brief. You might like to think things through and process the ideas before giving a quick answer. People and relationships may be your focus of discussion before you attack the problem-solving agenda if your style is more relationship based.
Then again, you might be a “dreamer” idea style who likes to innovate with discussions about the big picture of your farm, and you need time for folks to listen to your tangents, without judgment. If you would like to figure this out, just go to ElaineFroese.com, download the toolkit on my homepage, and do the Communication Styles Assessment.
Ask for What You Need
Accept that different is not wrong, it is just different. Ask for what you need to have a better understanding and talk it out. “I need you to look me in the eye when we are talking so that I am sure that you get my message. I need 15 minutes of un-interrupted time to get this settled, so please put your cell phone away!” I like the idea of having a cell phone basket at the door for everyone to drop their phones and come to the table for a “real time” conversation with no interruption.
You might have to be open to learning what the other person’s communication style is so that you can make room for their style. If verbose talkers are driving you crazy, ask for a timeline for the conversation and put some boundaries around it. “We have 15 minutes for this item, and then we need to make a decision.” Some folks use the penny idea where they have 3 pennies on the table and submit one each time they talk. When the pennies have been spent, they are to listen! I prefer using a talking stick like a soft toy that is passed around to be held by the speaker. When that person is finished sharing their thoughts, then the talking stick is passed to the next speaker. It really helps stop those from speaking who like to interrupt.
Be Aware of Your Communication Hot Buttons
I have trouble with the “strong silent types” who say “I don’t know” when I ask them a question. Farm coaches are wired to ask tough questions which can cause discomfort, but the outcome of knowing what everyone is thinking, feeling, and wanting is a HUGE benefit to courageous conversations.
Think about what makes you defensive or angry when you are communicating with your farm team. You have the power to change your response. A good response might be, “what would you like me to do differently?” Just practice that one line for the next week and see what happens. Folks may be shocked at first that you are willing to change. This is not a manipulation game. This is creating new habits that help you reach a better understanding.
How do you know when you are getting better at talking through problems? Ask “if this problem didn’t exist or was solved, what would I/we be doing or saying to each other?”
Have a vision of what you want your farm workplace culture to look like and decide what steps you can do to make it happen. Kristjan Hebert was speaking at Ag Days recently about the 5% rule, making incremental changes by 5% to really improve your farm finances. He also mentioned that an outside business board member asked: “why are you starving the high school students in your town?” What he meant was, that for $11/hour the shop floors could be swept by students, rather than management. Farmers have a hard time delegating rather than trying to do everything themselves.
What Needs to Shift for Better Communication at Your Farm?
It might take a set of fresh eyes and ears in the form of a facilitator to shine a light on the trouble spots that need a better tool for better talking and listening.
Start by simply speaking kindly with grace to each other. Treat your farm team as well as you behave with your closest friends. Share meals together, and make decisions on a well-fed stomach, not an empty one while you are “on the run.”
Small Steps Make a Huge Difference:
- Speak in a calm and respectful tone. Look each other in the eye.
- Ask permission if now is a good time to talk or when would work better.
- Paraphrase what you heard the other person say to check that you got the correct intention of the message. (Texting doesn’t have this dimension of tone of voice, which is why texting causes lots of communication breakdown and conflict!)
- Make requests. Request items that are hot issues be dealt with in a formalized meeting session, at a certain date and time, so that folks can process their responses and do research on the issue before the meeting.
- Ask better questions. What would you like me to do differently to communicate better? What assumptions am I making? What am I responsible for? What can I learn from this situation?