The winter is cruising by and you are wondering if you are ever going to get a communication breakthrough to figure out “The Plan” for the future of your family and your farm. You might be the aging founder, the frustrated successor or the curious non-farm sibling. Whatever role you play, this scenario is impacting all of you.
Last month I presented “How to Get Parents to Talk” as a “Virtual Kitchen Table” online presentation, but few of you came. Disappointing. Another confirmation that discussing the Undisscusabull™ is not comfortable so you procrastinate and avoid conflict.
From my experience here are the key things farmers want:
- To have their hard work appreciated;
- To be respected and heard;
- To keep their land base intact and growing;
- To have a profitable business;
- To have harmony with the siblings, including non-farm heirs.
That list is achievable but you have to be intentional in your behaviour and your decision-making. You need to pay attention to the glue that is holding your farm and your family together, the farm’s culture. What do you believe to be true? How are you behaving? How effective are you in communication so you can make collaborative decisions?
Ouch. Take a few minutes for some self-reflection here.
Why are folks shut down?
- Fear. They are scared for many reasons. Perhaps their last good idea was not even considered and was blown off without any real conversation or opportunity to explore creative solutions.
- Emotional tank is empty. The negativity and poor behaviour, in some cases toxic, is dragging everyone’s emotional bank account into the red. They feel unappreciated, disrespected and only good for hard labour. Yikes.
- Overwhelmed. Succession planning is the transfer of labour, management and wealth. It can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be hard. What is the story you are telling yourself? You’re a farmer! You’ve taken many years of risk and you have managed a lot of storms. You have been resilient in the past! Check out why you are anxious and overwhelmed. Do you have a low-grade depression enhanced by all of the stress of “The Great Pause” or the cattle markets? Do not ignore your physical and mental health. Get checked out!
- Embarrassed. Many aging farmers still are carrying high debt loads. Their balance sheets are out of whack and that was not the plan. Lack of financial transparency between generation one and generation two stops now. You need data to understand the current reality of the farm, and the more eyes and brains processing that information the better. You also need to have great trusted advisers who can help you interpret the benchmarks. My heart goes out especially to the beef producers who are struggling with low profit margins and continued setbacks.
- Avoiding fights. Where is it written that conflict is bad? Unresolved conflict is not good, but conflict resolution is a great business risk management strategy. When you get really good at conflict you are unstoppable. I suspect the real fear here is the fear around managing the inheritance expectations of your heirs. It’s the FAIRNESS issue. Hop over to “Elaine Froese Farm Family Coach” on YouTube to watch “Finding Fairness in Farm Transition.” My definition of fairness is “helping everyone be successful.” Your farm is not a piece of pie to be quartered off! This is a hard reality as land prices incite greed and unrealistic expectations. In order to manage the generational expectations you need to be able to talk about tough issues.
So how do you open the doors of communication?
1. Figure out first what it is that you truly want. This includes on all fronts, self, marriage, family, farm.
2. Write out your expectations and desires in a letter. Computers can help you delete, edit and craft what you truly intend to say, and give you a great script. You can deliver the letter and if you need tips go to my blog and search “power of a letter.”
3. Identify your Top 5 values. I use a values cloud and you can get yours at www.elainefroese.com/contact. Ask for it. If parents value independence and wealth, they may be hanging on tight until death, where you might value the transfer of wealth with a warm hand, not a cold one. If you have not been able to talk about money and financial pressures, you need to start.
4. Share your intentions. “I am just curious if we could have a conversation about what a good day looks like to you on the farm Dad.” Dads fear being “pushed off the farm” when really you expect them to provide insight and labour well into their late 60s, but when you don’t communicate you can make up all kinds of stories in your head! Intent, action, effect is basic conflict resolution. I cannot read your mind until you talk, share ideas and show me your actions. Then I get to tell you what effect the message has on me.
5. Navigate resistance. No one likes to feel dumb. Advisers who use complex language can sometimes make you push back because in your head you do not understand intellectually what they are meaning. Head, heart and gut are the places you need to check out with your farm team and adviser. Say, “I don’t understand, can you tell me in a different way? If emotions are running high, ask for time to ponder and reflect, say, “This doesn’t feel like a good idea to me, I don’t like it.” When you have been emotionally triggered things shut down quickly. If you get a sick feeling in your gut with what has been presented you are having a trust issue. Likely you are thinking, “I don’t think this idea is going to work.” Rick Mauer’s book Why don’t you want what I want? is a great place to understand the three keys of resistance.