The email subject line read “UNBELIEVABLE” in all caps, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy farm transition story. Fourteen bullet points ensued with anger, poor decision-making, people not taking responsibility for their inaction. After ingesting a dump load of angst my reply simply was, “And what do you want me to do with your story?”
Memorize that last line. “And what do you want me to do with your story?” It will be the start of what conflict resolution experts call “flattening the triangle.” Many farm moms are caught in a triangle of communication through them. The farm dad comes in and dumps his frustration of how the farming child is not performing up to the dad’s (unspoken) expectations. The successor sneaks in later to vent their anger towards a parent who makes assumptions and is not open to letting go or embracing new ways of doing things. Stop listening to the venting and start creating a direct communication line between the two players who are dumping on you. Dump your grain, not your pain.
“But it feels so good to vent Elaine,” writes a dairy farmer on Facebook to say hello and relay that his farming father-in-law still refuses to let go of control. That feel-good feeling is fleeting.
Venting to your spouse in marriage may let off steam, but it still is not creating solutions. Set a five-minute time limit on the venting part, then move to creating solutions together. Some folks want to solve the problem on their own, using the venting strategy to process what is happening, and get some insight from the other person’s perspective. Be clear if you are just verbally processing or are you looking for solutions?
The ability to take on another person’s perspective is another healthy conflict resolution skill. Can you put yourself in your spouse’s shoes? Are they having a hard time with unspoken fears of failure or loss of wealth that they cannot yet express?
Winter brings time around the table to plan, strategize, and take a good look at where you have been and where you want to be headed. The emphasis on love in February may have stirred up your loneliness or sense of woundedness in your family dynamic. What actions are you planning to take for healing? As the Chinese proverb says, “Talk does not cook rice.” You need to act.
Go to www.elainefroese.com/contact to request a $40 conflict dynamic profile (CDP) that you can do online to figure out your strengths in constructive conflict and the destructive habits that you want to decrease. It also will illuminate your hot buttons. My hot buttons are people who are aloof, i.e. don’t share what they are thinking or feeling or wanting, and also those folks who are unreliable. This helps me understand what to do when I am feeling triggered.
Assessing your conflict profile gives you concrete data to make improvements.
My farm adviser friends Davon Cook and Lance Woodbury at www.agprogesss.com have some sobering thoughts here about choosing what you want your legacy to be on your farm. If you keep dumping anger, there’s a big chance that your legacy will not be healthy. Sign up for their newsletter, the Ag Progress Dispatch, for great writing on family business principles.
Davon Cook asks:
- How will I be remembered? What characteristics or accomplishments will be noted?
- What, or who, will I leave behind? This includes hard assets and soft assets like relationships and impact on others and my community.
- What are my hopes and expectations for the future? I hope to embed some values and goals that influence my children, business associates, and others through time. Yet my opinions are not guaranteed to carry weight indefinitely. My challenge is to influence by persuasion and example, without an expectation of dictating from the grave.
Lance Woodbury outlines the negative legacy consequences of poor choices:
- A legacy of not dealing with difficult family issues and leaving them to fester far into the future among the children. In short, the passing of conflict (in addition to assets) from one generation to the next.
- Or, a legacy of dealing with conflict in a way that further breaks the family apart. I frequently see family members “withhold” time with the grandkids, boycott significant life milestones (weddings and other celebrations), or create intentional hostility in public and private gatherings. Anger can have generational consequences.
- A legacy of non-existent, or primarily negative, feedback and interaction that leaves your children feeling like they have never pleased you, have never met your standards, or even that they were a disappointment to you.
- A legacy of physical, emotional or even substance abuse that gets repeated in future generations.
- A legacy of “equality” that sets up conflict among siblings. An example would be leaving future generations with undivided ownership interests in land or with common ownership in operating companies, when not everyone is involved in the business, without a process to resolve differences that will likely arise.
- A legacy that doesn’t reflect the unique contributions of family members. In modern times that might be a legacy that favours leadership by sons when perhaps the daughters are more qualified, or a legacy that favours older siblings when younger family members have made a bigger contribution.
As you consider your legacy, think about how some of the less desirable aspects of your style, your approach to problems, some of your blind spots, or your less than positive interaction with others might get transferred to the next generation (Ag Progress Dispatch January 2019: Reimagining Legacy).
Work on direct communication with your farm team and create solutions together. Dump your grain, but don’t dump your pain on each other. Work it out with strong conflict resolution choices. As Woodbury cautions: anger can have generational consequences, and I am sure that is not what you want!
I look forward to reading your emails that say, “Unbelievably helpful conversations.”