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How to have your voice heard

Here's some tips to have your opinions and ideas count at the farm decision-making table

I’ve consumed a bit too much chocolate in my adventures at the Hershey Lodge in Pennsylvania. You are given a large Hershey bar at check-in, a bag full (over 10 chocolate kisses with room service breakfast) and chocolate butter at the banquet table. Even the shampoo and conditioner smell like chocolate!

Many women love chocolate. It may be due to the supposedly wonderful chemical theobromine in it which gives females the sensation of being “infatuated” … at least that is how I recall the story.

In Hershey I was presenting: Conflict Dynamics in Family Business, to vegetable and fruit growers. We also had a lot of apples for snacks!

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The thread of conversation that struck me was from the non-family members, i.e. employees who were looking for ways to have a voice in the decision-making of the farm. This hits home for me, as we have two non-family employees on our farm. Do they feel like their opinions count? How do we find out?

Tips for having a voice:

1. Use your voice. Be gracious and respectful. Come from curiosity. “I was wondering if you would be open to me giving you some input on this problem we are trying to solve.” I cannot read minds. I need to hear your voice and your opinion. Be silent no longer.

2. Try to understand the perspectives of the owners and shareholders of the farm. Managers are juggling many priorities. Make sure your timing for your request is reasonable. It really helps if the farm team has a formalized process like a staff meeting with a clear agenda. This gives you time to prepare your approach, do your research, and process how you would like to express yourself.

3. Stop yielding. Yielding is a negative conflict resolution tool if you are always giving in to the other partners or employees. Your opinion and ideas count. A seasoned farm woman confessed to me that her throat actually closed up when she was getting ready to make a strong statement to her farming brother and father. Her lack of validation over the years had created a physical habit of constricting her voice. She discovered this tendency when she was working with a therapeutic massage specialist.

4. Take baby steps to build up your confidence. Perhaps the first approach is to write down your ideas on paper in a word document or use a mind-mapping technique to branch out all of your ideas. If you are nervous in communicating, you can use the notes as your talking script. I have seen this be very effective with a sensitive widow who wanted to communicate clearly her estate-planning intentions with her distraught adult children.

5. Read Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, by Judith E. Glaser. Glaser speaks of Level 3 or transformational conversations that build trust, are transparent, and build relationship. She says, “unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal and avoidance… which leads to lower productivity and innovation, and ultimately lower success.”

6. STAR SKILLS™ Glaser uses are skills that achieve results: build rapport, listen without judgment, ask discovery questions, reinforce success, and dramatize the message. In other words, let every voice on your farm team be heard. Choose your words of encouragement carefully to build rapport. Learn from one another with a learner mindset, not judging, and celebrate the wins. You need to let people challenge new ideas before they can accept them.

7. Love does not read minds. No more silence at the farm board meeting table. Give everyone a chance to express their thoughts openly and without fear. Seek to understand the other person’s intent, their “why.” Let people have time to tell stories to get their points across. Fear shuts out people’s voices. Create a place where honesty, empathy, and a shared vision of success for the farm are welcomed. Use great listening skills and discovery questions to build understanding. Your goal is to increase the transparency of your conversations in your farm business, and your family.

8. Create a vision board for your farm. Cut out pictures of what success for your farm looks like or print them off your phone or Instagram collage.

Glaser says that “as you learn how to create more space for trust to grow, you change the conversational landscape.” Vision boards are just another way to communicate what reality you are aiming for on your farm. Perhaps the word TRUST needs to be on your board.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

If you are longing to have more of a voice on your farm because you can see the immense potential ahead, it is time to speak up, speak out, and be heard.

About the author

Contributor

Elaine Froese is a certified farm family coach and farm partner. Seek her out at www. elainefroese.com or call 1-866-848-8311. Buy her books for your mom. Share your stories of how these phrases have impacted you. Elaine wants to hear from you on Facebook at “farm family coach” or Twitter @elainefroese.

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