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.
“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?
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,” to, “What would you like the outcome to be instead?”
- Both brothers, the founders and shareholders are aging. Is retirement a helpful word, or would “reinvention 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.
- What is the dollar expectation for buying uncle out? Do your research with your lender, find out what you could cash flow to give a debt payment schedule to purchase 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?”
- No assumptions. 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 practise saying those sentences out loud. Write them on an index card and pretend they are notes for your ASK speech.
- 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.” 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.
- 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.
- What’s your exit strategy? If 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.
What stories are you telling yourself about the brothers 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 and trusted adviser 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 men 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 40, what is your learning 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 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.