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How to handle emotional farm transition conversations

Getty/iStockphoto Notepad with agenda and pen
Why the meeting before the meeting may be as important as the meeting.

Imagine this: You know the family farm owners and heirs need to have a delicate discussion about how much is left after Grandma’s estate settlement (or substitute your own topic). You expect a few touchy points on why certain investments were sold, and you know the topic of what to do with her house will be emotional.

You have done a lot of homework to gather years of financial info to explain today’s reality. You have searched back through legal paperwork to track down missing info. You have scheduled nine busy people to attend. You have put together a good agenda and ordered food.

You are ready. Right?

While facilitating through many touchy situations, I have learned (often the hard way), that sometimes the most important work is conversations before the meeting. Talking through the agenda and information with key influencers or those most likely to have concerns can be critical. There are several reasons this may be helpful:

  • Make sure the agenda is answering the questions they really want to know and revise accordingly.
  • You may discover the information you’re painstakingly prepared is not clear or is not the right information.
  • You avoid being surprised with new information or unexpected derailments.
  • Some people are not confident about their understanding or input; help them feel prepared.
  • Some people need time and space to absorb the information or prepare their own thoughts; they don’t like surprises.
  • Some people have concerns they want to share privately, not in a group setting.
  • Some people really disagree with you on the topic. Try to understand why and find common ground so you can build on it further in the meeting.
  • Some people that need to be heard can get it out of their system beforehand, rather than in valuable group time.
  • Some people just want to know they matter enough to be consulted and feel part of the process.

Jaded folks might call this process, perhaps with some level of disdain, ‘politicking.’ Professionals call it ‘building consensus.’ I call it making progress, which we are often asked to help families do. The reality is that healthy families and teams have the ability to discuss and solve tough issues—and make progress one conversation at a time.

This is all part of the process.

What group decisions coming up would benefit from having these individual conversations beforehand?

Davon Cook is a family business consultant at K Coe Isom. Reach Davon at [email protected].

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

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