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.”
Communication that is clear and concise, well understood and received by the listeners is the goal. During the winter months we might have more planning time to talk about the issues, the farm strategies and the dreams that drive us to grow our businesses and enjoy our families at the same time.
My friend Randy Park has an amazing mind for dissecting the decision advancement process and challenging us about how we make decisions. His work with the definition of filters I think you 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 are formed 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. But unless we are careful, they can block out important information, especially for situations we have never experienced before.
We all have individual filters; as well, when we get together in any sort of group we form collective filters that can result in everyone thinking the same way. On the other hand, if you bring together people who have diverse experiences and education, their different filters can result in better decisions.” (www.decisionadvancement.com)
So, let’s be honest about the filters we carry as farmers.
“As the main manager, I should be able to give leadership to this farm transfer process, but why do I feel so overwhelmed?” My guess is that you filter many things as problems to be solved with quick fixes. This is what I term the “Roundup” solution, things should change within 10 days, like Roundup and be gone. The process of business continuance is multi-layered with many types of plans overlapping, and the process is done 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. If you tell me the ages of the fighters, I can make some educated guesses as to the “why” behind the drama.
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 are formed by our beliefs. Do you have a model of forgiveness in your belief system that will help you embrace conflict and offer 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 don’t see the need to justify their choices to you as the farm boss. Their filter is based on family first, farm work second, within reason. The problem is that you haven’t 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 the jobs easier, more timely and efficient. We certainly don’t want to go back to paper ledgers instead of computerized accounting. But we still all need to communicate and develop systems for keeping track of important papers, bills, tax receipts, etc. What habits (bad habits) are killing your communication system? We’ve use labelled cubbies in the kitchen to be a landing pile for documents of each family member, and coloured files for collecting faxes. As a coach I work hard to get families to buy a whiteboard for the shop or back office door to collect the agenda items and job lists for clear expectations of roles and responsibilities. A pencil and a paper are still a very cost-effective planning tool 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 may 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 ever really sat down and thought through all 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. All the things we expect other folks to know and understand 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. †