Sitting on my stool in front of the third farm audience of the week, I should not be surprised to receive the same question for the third time by text: “Elaine, how do we stop the conflict on our farm? “
Don’t stop conflict. Change your mindset about fighting. Fight differently.
Conflict that is resolved is a beautiful thing. When farm families get clarity of expectations, certainty of agreements, and timelines, and they make decisions that get things done.
Conflict that is continually avoided by slamming doors, yelling, and then running to the shop or barn is not helpful.
What will set your next family meeting to a more helpful zone is to dissect the conversation into intent, action, and effect.
Your intent is hidden deep inside your overworked brain. Love does not read minds. You need to write out your thoughts on paper to give yourself a working script to explain your “why” to the farm team. Why are you so afraid to tell others, especially family, what you are honestly thinking, feeling, needing, and wanting?
Is it because you have hit a wall of frustration, and you are deciding to move on, thinking about moving away from the farm because you are sick and tired of things that sabotage the certainty for your future? “Either things start moving in our direction, or we are moving away from this hotbed of frustration !”
Do actions really speak louder than words? Perhaps you are making wrong assumptions regarding your dad’s silence on transition issues. He could be paralyzed by the fear of “not doing it right the first time,” so he chooses to just do farm work rather than work “on” the farm business.
My new hashtag for agriculture is #healingstories4ag. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns to create a healthy, transparent forum for fierce yet courageous conversations. If the thought of this sends your heart racing, settle down. Write out what you truly want for your family, your farm business, and your land ownership and wealth. These are the three circles of decision making to help you sort through all the thoughts and angst clogging up your tired brain.
Our words and actions can cause hurt or harm. Hurt erupts when someone is unintentional towards hurting us. They won’t have a clue about the pain unless we share the effect they have had on us.
Harm is a different animal. Harm is toxic as it is the result of someone intentionally wanting us to suffer. These are the sad stories in agriculture that need to stop now.
When you witness anger on your farm, ask the angry person if they are hurt, afraid, or frustrated. Displaying yelling, crying, or walking away is a secondary emotion likely due to fear of the uncertainty of the future.
So how do you decrease the anxiety over the uncertainty of your future?
- Talk with yourself first. Figure out very clearly what a good day on the farm looks like to you in 2020, 2021, and 2022—one year at a time. You may have heard that at the end of 2021, I will be spending more time playing with grandchildren and less time facilitating private farm family meetings with my beloved Beanie Baby bull and flipchart. What do you want for yourself, your marriage, your family, your workplace, and your friendships?
- Visit a quiet place that gives you and your spouse joy and energy. Talk about what you see in your future vision for your family and your farm. Figure out the pinch points where you strongly disagree on the vision and work towards a picture that you can both happily live with.
Many families are stuck because the founders have conflicting visions. No plan will be executed until Mom and Dad can create solutions to appreciate different perspectives. Remember, “different is not wrong; it is just different.” I’d like to spend a month on Vancouver Island visiting siblings and friends, but my spouse thinks two weeks might be long enough. We’ll keep negotiating!
- Talk to each of your adult children privately, along with their partners or spouses. I see couples as a unit. You create respect and trust when each family unit hears your vision and dreams at the same time. There is nothing lost in translation when you have transparent, respectful conversations, listening intently to all of the voices at the table. A farm widow wept when she realized that keeping her daughters-in-law away from the decision-making table likely had caused more mistrust and showed huge disrespect.
- Set a date for a 3-hour family meeting, which includes the farm and non-farm members. Starting the conversation is the hardest part, but once you start the ball rolling, you’ll have the joy of taking the next action step. A family who tried this meeting on their own was disappointed that it “went off the rails” quickly. Why are you afraid to invest a couple of seed canola bags worth ($1400 or so ) on a facilitated family meeting? My farmer says, “You get what you pay for!”
It’s time for family fighting to become conflict resolution as a business risk management strategy. Visit www.cafanet.com
- Do what you promised you would do. Walk the talk, and get your business plan going, the communication plan, your lifestyle plan, and update your estate plan. Then you can tweak your contingency plan and talk about your future employment strategy for working on the farm as the “hired person or part-time employee.
Call your lawyer to update your will. Seek out a financial planner to make sure you have enough income stream until you’re 102. Share decision making with your successor and ask them how they would like you to mentor or teach them the skills they need.
- Celebrate your new mindset in 2020. We all have 20/20 vision for the past, but yesterday is past, and tomorrow is a promise, we just have today, the present.
Strong families celebrate. Be strong!