One of the bulls in the middle of the farmhouse that we need to chase after is the undiscussabull of “my brother would never agree to that.” These transition conversations are as fresh as a newly minted cow plop, and they stink, too. However, it is time we faced the issue of disagreement among farm brothers and what it does to farm transition plans. Only when these issues are worked out will plans move along smoothly and successfully.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- “Elaine, my dad is great to work with, but he won’t stand up to my uncle.”
- “My uncle is a lone ranger and would never allow me to buy his farm shares.”
- “Things would transition a whole lot easier on this place IF I could get my parents and my uncle to the table to talk and make some concrete decisions.”
Are you that uncle? Or do you know that uncle? Either way, you are in the right place, because today I am sharing advice on how to reframe your thinking to become farm brothers who can work together to create the right transition plan.
6 Tips for Dealing with Disagreeing Farm Brothers
If you are one of the farm brothers who do not see eye to eye – or caught in the crossfire of the disagreements – I encourage you to do a reframe of your thinking. Don’t play the victim card. Be direct, open, and take action. Stop the mindset of “we have an uncle problem” and change it to “What would you like the outcome to be instead?”
Here are tips on switching to outcome-based thinking:
1. Figure Out How to Move Forward
Both farm brothers, the founders and shareholders, are aging. Is retirement a helpful word, or would “re-invention of roles” be a better target? What does a good day on the farm in the next three years look like to your dad, mom, spouses, and your uncle? In order to let go of something, we need a really attractive offer to move toward.
2. Do Your Research
What is the dollar expectation for buying the uncle out? Do your research with your lender, find out what you could cash flow to give a debt payment schedule to purchase the uncle’s shares. “You don’t know my uncle, Elaine. He would never sell.” Start planting the seeds of opportunity by asking questions with curiosity. Say “I’m just curious, is there a timeline in your head of when you would like to start transferring your shares?”
3. Make No Assumptions
Instead of assuming, ask for clarity of expectations. Being clear with your expectations is kind. Make a list of all the things you would really like to know from your uncle’s perspective, and practice saying those sentences out loud. Write them on an index card and pretend they are notes for your ASK speech.
4. Dig into Details
What would have to happen to know that you have actually got what you truly wanted? Create possibilities here and list out the best-case scenario. “Dad and I agree that we will farm together, and I will be clear that I do not want to be a business partner with my uncle.” And then pave the way for that to happen. For example: I will have my debt servicing capacity lined up so I know what I can afford to pay and over what time frame. I will do pre-work with our accountant to make sure we have the most flexible business structure for the next 20 years. I will talk to a farm management specialist to be sure that the benchmarks for decision making that I am affirming are reasonable and true. I will get better at sharing my emotions and creating solutions to do conflict resolution well.
5. Get a Business Plan
How can you share your business vision for the type of farm you want to invest your future time, energy, and labour towards? Formulate a one-page business plan to be concise and clear about your dreams, goals, and vision for the farm. Plan on paper because the act of writing it out starts your brain working in the right direction subconsciously.
6. Have an Exit Strategy
What’s your exit strategy? If the uncle is stubborn and refuses to negotiate a deal, then are you willing to seek another career on a different farm as a joint venture partner with a non-family member? “Elaine that would kill my dad.” Oh, but your dad is not willing to stand up for what he believes is the best business decision? Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings, would be a great resource to scout out what to do when things don’t work out if the farm brothers cannot somehow come together on an agreement.
What stories are you telling yourself about the farm brothers who are not seeing eye to eye? Do they have the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the other? Is the conflict avoidance so great that you have lost hope of even having an honest, open conversation to ask for what you need?
Perhaps it is high time to bring in the family communication facilitator, a coach, or a trusted advisor who can prepare each player privately to come to the table for some robust decision making. Letting the conflict escalate is guaranteed to make you sick and threaten the demise of your marriage. The stress of unresolved issues and thwarted dreams is killing agriculture.
Pay attention to the fact that painting the uncle and your dad as “poor communicators” is just excuse-making. These farm brothers are men who are making choices on how to run the farm every day, even if it’s habitual, and they don’t express how or why they are making certain decisions. If you want to have the designation of main manager by the time you are forty, what is your plan and approach for getting what you want? It’s not going to happen unless you get better at conflict resolution as a business risk management strategy. Grab the bull by the horns, do your debt servicing research, and call a farm strategy meeting.
Every person needs to be treated with kindness and respect. You get to choose your response to the resistance from farm brothers that you may face at the head level (not understanding buy-sell agreements), the heart level (emotions around letting go of ownership, pride ), and the gut-level (I don’t trust people to deal fairly). Where is your uncle’s resistance to your goal of having some equity coming from?
You can do this. Focus and execute.