It warms my coaching heart to sit in a workshop with a group of smart women in agriculture who truly want better communication on our farms. Some of these tips I’m sharing were generated by FCC’s Patti Durand, my friend and a great transition specialist at Connect Ag 2019. (Watch FCC Focus on Farm Transition YouTube videos.)
Why should you care?
Families who communicate on a regular basis with business meetings are 21 per cent more profitable, according to Dr. David Kohl’s research. Talking things out this winter will also likely help you alleviate the anticipated spring 2020 stress.
Patti Durand says: “Efficiencies found will save relationships and money. Each person will have clarity allowing for better focus and sleep. Good habits for talking about the little stuff lead to better outcomes when talking about bigger decisions.”
You’ve heard me say before: you get the behaviour you accept. If communication needs improvement on your farm team, how are you addressing key habits?
You can only change you, so take care in how you deliver your messages, and think about whether it warrants a face-to-face discussion rather that a quick missile like a text. Are you focused on listening with curiosity? Durand suggests channelling your inner three-year-old and ask, “Why? Why? Why?” This is classic conflict resolution behaviour where you are clear in sharing your intent.
Durand encourages families to assume that each of your family members are acting with good intentions.
“I am really keen to have some family business meetings before spring, because there are several challenges needing clarity of expectations. My intent is not to control the outcome, but to seek solutions together. Let’s get this done!”
Another key tip is to consider the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and work toward the common interests, collaborating to reach a common goal.
- Recognize the symptoms of a fight, flight or freeze response. You’re not in a good state of mind for a conversation. Acknowledge that you need to talk about this issue after you’ve taken time to calm down first.
- Use a scheduled meeting to deal with the issues, what I call the “undiscussbulls.” Use your flipchart, talking stick (a soft toy), and your phones to record the pages of the flipchart. Rather than having lots of side conversations or blow-ups by the shop, come together with an agenda to make decisions as a group.
- Recognize when a third-party adviser needs to be brought in. As a coach I have done this via the video computer tools on zoom.us. Face-to-face meeting is impactful, but even being there by speakerphone can add huge value to the meeting.
- Use guidelines for spending. Team members have the authority to make purchases of less than $____ without consulting the team. (Don’t fight about anything worth less than $____.)
- Sample agendas work well on a whiteboard collected in the farm workshop.List the priority tasks for the week, assign names, delegate, then park the rest for jobs to do if everything else gets done. Email me [email protected] if you would like a copy of Durand’s tips, and Dick Wittman’s sample meeting agenda.
Connect AG farm women tips:
- Have all players at the table, think about who should be at the table. In my experience it is usually best to include spouses, even if they are not active in farm roles. There are certain meetings that don’t translate well if everyone is not in the room.
- Information is shared. You can do this easily with phone photos of the flipchart papers, or digitally with a meeting template (ask me for it). You can list what was discussed, assign a person to the task, and then give it a deadline for completion.
- Everyone has a voice at the table and TIME to express themselves. Holding the talking stick means that you speak without interruption, and then ask for the stick if you want to give a response. This simple tool empowers all voices. Be prepared for emotions to be expressed if this is the first time all voices are being heard. Have Kleenex tissues handy and don’t be afraid of emotions being expressed.
- Conversation is open and safe. If this is not the current culture of your farm, then it is time to have an outside facilitator to help demonstrate positive communication habits.
- Always have the date for the next meeting before leaving the meeting. Meet when folks are rested, full and ready to make plans. One farm family meets every first Wednesday for operational planning, and the third Wednesday of the month for strategy transition planning. Only two hours from 9 to 11 a.m. It is blocked off on everyone’s calendars and part of the farm routine. Designated meeting times might also work on Sunday night to plan for the week.
- What is the goal of the current meeting? You can only prepare for very clear outcomes. Be sure that the meetings are focused and establish concrete steps and timelines to reach a decision. Sometimes you may need a 24-hour rule to cool down if things are emotional, or allow counsel while you sleep on a big decision.
- Get childcare and shut off the phones. Your meetings need to be distraction free.
- Commit to addressing the big emotional problem in the room. Use my key challenge audit sheet (pdf) that is here https://elainefroese.com/farm-succession-planning/ to understand the key things you need to unpack in your communication.
- Be kind. Being clear is kind. No yelling or disrespectful behaviour. You are running a multimillion-dollar business. There will be no drama if you choose not to show up for the performance!
When you model trust, good listening, respect, and curiosity without judgment, many amazing things will happen and a huge weight of stress will lift. It also will feel good on the balance sheet to be more profitable. You can do this!