A weary-looking farm woman waits patiently in line making sure she is the last one to speak to me privately after my keynote. She has just one question.
“When is the right time to start including our daughter-in-law in family business meetings; she doesn’t know a thing!”
How would you respond?
Reflective listening is activated, and I ask:
“She doesn’t know a thing about what? (Match the words.) What expectations do you have of her? Help me understand. Tell me more. How long has she been married to your son?” In my coaching experience, it is best for the farm team to have collaborative decision-making, with everyone being respected for their input and ability to create solutions.
This month is “GO TIME” for farmers and there is added stress of fields in poor spring condition, and financial strain. I vote for a mindset shift in how you manage the challenges ahead. Look at all the opportunities you have, to identify the challenges together as a team, and brainstorm solutions.
The daughter-in-law (DIL) in the scenario above is likely reeling with anxiety and frustration. Her in-laws and possibly her spouse have certain expectations of her behaviour and knowledge, crafted into a tight box with huge assumptions.
It’s time for a collaborative and proactive approach to decision-making on our farms.
Last June I snuck into the conference next to my session to review the book table of Dr. Ross Greene, author of Raising Human Beings. This gramma bought the book. I encourage you to get a copy to improve your farm family dynamics. Greene is a former Harvard professor now out of Portland, (see wwwlivesinthebalance.org) whom I would love to have tea with. His approach with children I think transfers well to de-escalating the drama on farm teams.
Greene says we need to understand people’s behaviour is a result of incompatibility with expectations. Children act out when what’s going on is their skills are incompatible with the expectations that they are under or the environment they are in. Imagine a city-raised new bride on the farm who has not had the chance to discuss or explore all of the “unwritten rules” of her new farm home and family. Perhaps the decision-making model on your farm is like a dictatorship, and new team members are expected to bow to the boss.
Greene sees incompatibility as an opportunity to find solutions. Creating solutions is one of the core principles of positive conflict resolution.
This list reflects the key skills Greene suggests parents need to explicitly try to teach:
- Empathy. This is your ability to gather information to truly understand concerns. In my skill set, it’s deep listening to explore and discover what the other person is truly feeling, thinking, needing and wanting. If you are getting feedback that you are a poor listener, then ask your team what you could do to be a more effective listener. I’d put down your cellphone, look the other person directly in the eye, and remove distractions for your conversation to be more effective.
- Appreciate how your behaviour affects others. This is where we want to knock down assumptions and ask more questions. Do you have any idea how your actions are impacting our farm team? What would you like me to do differently? Silence from a DIL may mean she has given up trying and decided to be aloof. Aloof people are a hot button for me. I really truly want to know what people are thinking and feeling so that we can create solutions. Silence can be a form of violence and stonewalling. Greene uses the term assumption-free living as a goal for better lives. Don’t assume you know the reason or intent of another person’s actions. Ask them to clarify their intentions. Remember, your intent is hidden in your mind, unless you are willing to communicate it. Circle back to the other person to share how their words and actions affect you. Love does not read minds!
Farmer Megz Reynolds (@farmermegzz) fell in love with a farmer when she was a filmmaker from Calgary. She studied to be a heavy-duty mechanic as she knew that skill would be helpful to the farm. I love this story. Megz as she is known, was willing to create new solutions to add skill to the farm team. Imagine if the DIL in our story was asked about the skill sets she already possessed that would be helpful to the farm, and was embraced for it!
- Resolve disagreements without conflict. Yes! This means you have crucial conversations by staying calm and sharing concerns. In Greene’s method he suggests the parents identify the issue that is a priority, share their concerns, and then work with the child to brainstorm solutions. You pick a solution that could work and give it a try.
- Take another person’s perspective. The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes is another positive conflict resolution skill. Can you imagine what it feels like to enter the culture of agriculture when you have no idea of all of the unspoken expectations for you on the farm? What does it feel like to be a land-rich founder with few liquid assets or cash flow problems, and be worrying about divorce?
- Honesty. Being transparent about your fears and finances is likely hard for you, but take baby steps in being vulnerable with respect as you communicate with each other. Financial transparency helps each generation on the farm be clear about workable expectations, and keeps the creditors happy when communication is a two-way street. It also breaks down assumptions about who has more financial freedom, and gives power to all parties to make better collaborative decisions for debt servicing. I know a DIL who made a six-figure income off farm, yet nothing she did was good enough for her father-in-law. He had no clue about her cash flow.
I have a friend, mother of five, who makes observations of her DIL’s behaviour with permission. She asks, “May I make an observation?” She is coming from a place of mercy, not judgment.
This takes courage as a deep investment in building stronger relationships.
Cheers to assumption-free living on our farms this April and beyond.