“Elaine, I am feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed with this farm transfer thing.”
“How do I talk to the kids without emotions running wild?”
“We do fine until we try to get a sit-down family meeting with an agenda, then no one is really honest with what is going on here.”
I hear each of the above statements quite often from different farm families. While the issues are different, each revolves around communication and our ability to eliminate the barriers that prohibit us from communicating in clear and concise ways that allow us to make good decisions and build a stable organization.
The goal of any communication is that it is clear, concise, well –understood and received by the listeners. For many farmers, the winter months may provide more planning time to talk about the issues, the farm strategies and the dreams that drive us to both grow our businesses and enjoy our families. So let’s discuss how to make the most of that time by ensuring we are communicating effectively.
My friend Randy Park has an incredible mind for dissecting the decision advancement process and challenging us on how we make decisions. His work with the definition of filters is something I think all farmers might find helpful.
Here’s Randy’s perspective:
“Filters are the thinking filters that we each use automatically and often unconsciously when making decisions. They form from our beliefs, experiences, education, biases, and assumptions. Filters are very useful in blocking out extraneous information and are very helpful in making quick decisions. However, unless we are careful, they can block out important information, especially for situations we have never experienced before.
We all have individual filters. Additionally, when we get together in any group, we form collective filters which can result in everyone thinking the same way. If you bring together people who have diverse experiences and education, their different filters can result in better decisions.”
So, let’s be honest about the filters we carry as farmers. Here are some examples.
“As the farm manager, I should be able to provide leadership to the farm transfer process, but why do I feel so overwhelmed?”
In this situation, you may be filtering many things as problems to solve with quick fixes. This is what I term the “Roundup” solution; things should change within ten days, like Roundup, and be gone. The process of business continuance is multi-layered with many different plans overlapping, and the process is complete only when you die. Then it becomes an estate issue.
“There’s too much drama on this farm. We yell, walk away and avoid conflicts at all costs.”
Here you have a conflict avoidance filter. Take it off and see conflict as a great way to get clear with people as long as you stay in the conversation, calmly, for as long as it takes to find reconciliation and resolution. Those of us who have a family history of confrontation or collaboration to be direct about the issues have a filter that accepts heated talk as a good thing, not something to be avoided. Filters form from our beliefs. Do you have a model of forgiveness in your belief system that will help you embrace conflict and offer an apology or make repairs to the communication tears in your farm team?
“Morning is the best time to get the work done around here.”
Really? Did you have a late night last night or a short one with cranky children and seeding hassles? Today’s young parents have different filters around the need for parental care by both spouses, and their day of work starts later than yours. They too are highly scheduled, but they do not see the need to justify their choices to the farm boss. Their filter is based on the reasonable idea of family first, farm work second. The problem is that you have not tried to reason with them or check out the experiences of being an early worker on your farm when others are just “waking up” at midday and are in gear late into the night. Are we allowing people to be part of the team with different circadian rhythms and work styles?
“We need to work smarter, not harder around here.”
This might be an education filter where new technologies are employed to make jobs easier, more timely and efficient. We certainly don’t want to go back to paper ledgers instead of computerized accounting. However, we still all need to communicate and develop systems for keeping track of important papers like bills, tax receipts, etc. What habits (bad habits) are killing your communication system?
At our farm, we use labeled cubbies in the kitchen as a landing pile for documents of each family member, and colored files for collecting faxes. As a coach, I strongly suggest that families buy a white board for the shop or back office door to collect agenda items and job lists for clear expectations of roles and responsibilities. Conversely, a pencil and paper are still a very cost effective planning tools to communicate clearly, and not forget the important issues that need addressing. Emailing the minutes from the business meetings with the action plan of “who does what by when” keeps everyone on the team accountable to act and work smarter.
Cleaning our bias filters make take a bit of hard work and honest reflection. Do you think farm girls make better spouses than the city or town wives? Be honest. This one gets personal for folks whose farming children, the potential successors, are courting people with “fresh eyes” and different approaches to farm codes of conduct and our culture. Have you every sat down and thought through all of the experiences you have as a farm kid that you take for granted?
“Make sure the gate is securely closed.”
“Get that gas cap on tight and don’t ever mix the fuels.”
“Don’t cross an isolation strip with your combine header feeding grain.”
“Empty the rain gauge after you document the amount.”
“Don’t ever park this truck on the swath.”
…and it goes on. We expect other folks to know and understand things about our farming systems, but we have never checked to see what biases or assumptions we have been making.
In-laws on the farm team, whether male or female, can be a wonderful asset to your communication process. They come with a different family style of conduct, another approach, and attitude about conflict, and believe that change is good when we understand the “why” behind doing things differently.
Elaine Froese wants to hear your communication success stories and struggles. Share with us in the comments below!