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How you talk about farm transition matters

Koldunova_Anna/ThinkstockPhotos Father and son standing against wall - obviously having a conflict.
Logical conversations aren't possible until stress is reduced.

Toby and his son, Aaron, were participating in a farm transition planning meeting. Aaron wanted to keep the farm the same size and not grow. Toby started from nothing and had built the farm into not only a premier farm, but also a great place to work. Toby would interrupt, argue and try to change Aaron’s mind by telling him he didn’t understand business. In turn, Aaron began to become more silent, use small amounts of sarcasm, and eventually quit coming to the transition planning meetings. At that point, neither party could see a path forward and they talked about splitting up the farm.

This scenario plays out around conference tables and kitchen tables each year but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

How can it be changed?

First, understand that in many situations you can only manage yourself, not the other person in the conversation. If you manage your emotions and communicate clearly it will be easier for others to do the same.

Secondly, stay focused when you are going to have a conversation where the stakes are high and there is the potential for strong emotion.  Before the conversation, think about what you want for yourself, for others, and your relationships. Put yourself in their shoes and answer, from their point of view, the same questions. Start from a position of trying to understand yourself and the reasons for the other person’s position before you start the conversation.

Look for what I call “silence or violence” as alerts that the conversation is a threat to others. People respond two ways when under stress. They respond with force (violence) by controlling the conversation, name-calling, making threats, verbally attacking, and labeling people. The other extreme response are forms of silence such as avoiding the topic, withdrawing from the conversation, sugar coating the topic to mask true opinions, and sarcasm.

What should Toby and Aaron change?

Toby was too forceful in his statements, tone and body language. In turn, Aaron verbally checked out of the meeting by becoming quiet and finally physically checking out of the meetings by not showing up.   

Our brains are wired to reduce logic and increase emotional responses when under stress. Toby and Aaron couldn't have a logical conversation about facts and opinions until we were able to reduce the stress everyone was feeling. When under stress Toby was prone to using violence and Aaron, silence, as a way to manipulate and cope. Each response harmed the ability to talk and reason together.

What happened?

Eventually, they were able to identify a crucial conversation before it began and watch their reactions and reactions of each other. The great news is that they didn’t split up the farm. They were able to create a common vision around slower, but steady, growth while executing a gradual transition into Toby’s next phase of life. 

If you would like your question answered in a future column or to discuss your question, write Tim at [email protected]

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

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