When I ask a farm family what their main desire for coaching is, the typical reply is “Better communication.” Reading Proverbs daily gives me reminders that what we say probably affects more people than any other action we take.
Proverbs describes four common speech patterns:
1. Controlled tongue.
2. Caring tongue.
3. Conniving tongue.
4. Careless tongue.
People with a controlled tongue think before speaking, know when silence is best and give wise advice.
If you want to improve communication, think about your intentions before you speak. “I am just curious, when would be a good time to talk about this conflict we can’t seem to solve?” “My intent is not to be pushy, my desire is to find clarity of expectations about the timelines for our transition plan. Can we set up a meeting with our adviser for next Tuesday?” “Is now a good time to talk, or would you like to process things a bit first, and we’ll circle back to this conversation after supper?
Sometimes I coach families to write a letter describing their thoughts and feelings, so they can be clear about what they want to communicate. The letter can be delivered, or it can be used as a “script” for thinking before speaking.
Silence can do some heaving lifting when there is deep emotion in a conversation. At a family meeting where it becomes clear that expectations are not aligned, it helps to remain silent for a few minutes to give people time to process what they just heard. For example, an elderly founder announces that he has no intentions of going into further debt to help his son start farming on his own. This needs time to sink in.
Silence however, is a form of violence, according to the authors of Crucial Conversations, when people refuse to speak or converse to create solutions to a problem. If someone refuses to talk, take time after a meal to ask them curiously, “Is there something that I need to understand before you’ll be willing to share your thoughts with me about this issue?”
Wisdom comes from deep understanding and choosing to be a lifelong learner. It can also be gleaned from experience, but not all experiences generate the same insights. Ask folks first if they are willing to receive your feedback or consider your perspective.
People with a caring tongue speak truthfully while seeking to encourage. Honesty is a core belief in our family. We want to use affirming language and show appreciation in the words we choose. Some farm families accept lying as a normal behaviour. I do not. I have said before, “You get the behaviour that you accept.” Telling the truth comes from the ability to embrace conflict as a business risk management strategy. When you are willing to create solutions, see things from another’s perspective, adapt, and reach out to the other person, you can be encouraging with your words. The person receiving your message needs to feel respect. It also helps if your actions have put lots of deposits into the emotional bank account of the relationship before you make withdrawals with tough conversations.
Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” I have a silver apple paperweight on my desk to remind me of this. Mark Twain said, “We can live on one good compliment for at least three months!” Look for ways in your daily farm operations that you can plant seeds of encouragement with a caring tongue. “What do you need from me now?” “How can I help you out?” “What can I do that would really make a big difference for you today?”
The conniving tongue represents those with a speech pattern filled with wrong motives, gossip, slander, and a desire to twist truth. This is a really hard situation to coach solutions since trust is likely broken due to a pattern of manipulations and broken promises. William Bridges calls this the “neutral zone,” where something needs to end, for example, lying, and something new needs to begin, honesty and openness. If your scenario includes this type of behaviour where trust is broken what are you choosing to do to rebuild trust? This is a situation where a third-party facilitator would be helpful for counselling or for family facilitation to get to the root of the issue.
Motives can be exposed when families take time to talk about their core values, goals and expectations. Google “Discuss the Undicussabull” on YouTube to learn more about talking about tough issues.
Family gossip is not helpful because Mom usually gets caught in the top of the triangle, when Dad is talking in one ear, and the successor is yelling in the other. To create better communication you want to “flatten the triangle” and get the father to speak directly to the successor to create solutions. Again, an outside adviser may be present to keep a sense of calm and order for dialogue.
I’ve written before that profanity on the farm does not pay, nor does twisting the truth. I recall a family scenario where four different advisers had given the same evaluation of the truth of the matter yet some siblings could not accept the truth. Truth is truth, and twisting it will just extend the length of the unresolved conflict.
Careless tongues wag strong in the winds of stress, be that seeding, harvest, late-night calving and other times where fatigue, hunger, and anger all create an explosive situation. Again, we always get to choose our response. We don’t have to have knee-jerk reactions to what is said. We can pause, take a deep breath, and decide if we wish to delay our response. Farmers with careless tongues wreak havoc on their farms when family and employees live in fear of the next explosion. This negative energy sucks out the ability to make sound decisions. I call this distracted management. Lies, curses, and quick-tempered words are destructive. Muck them out.
My practice is to read a Proverb from the Bible each day. So if today is March 12, then read Proverbs 12. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18. I wish you great healing and better communication on your farm. Control your tongue.