One of our most meaningful roles is assisting a farm family deal with conflicts in sharing the farm's management and/or ownership. Fortunately, most families work on an ongoing basis with an experienced farm accountant and/or a farm financial consultant who have substantial understanding of the conflict areas and knowledge of each member's perspectives, positions, strengths and limitations. It is our practice to team with these professionals as their experience with the farm and family is critical in farm planning and conflict resolution.
The farm is successful because the senior generation (and often the generations before them) had the management skills to develop a sustainable farm. However, the successful management and resolution of intra-business conflicts requires a different set of skills and focused leadership. Sharing management is especially challenging whether between the senior generation and their involved children or between partners in the farm business. Most often, each person's motivation and commitment to the farm's future success is not the problem. The challenge of unresolved conflicts is dealing with positions that have hardened and a general unwillingness to change, compromise and to find the best answer. We then have to remind the group that resolving present conflicts and managing future conflicts will require each person's introspection, a change in thinking and often, a change in management style. The conflicts they face cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking that they were in when they created the conflicts.
A first step is often to heighten each person's self-awareness. Each person needs to take the time and effort to obtain a better and deeper understanding of his or her own emotions, objectives, expectations, strengths and weaknesses. In conflicts, people need to recognize how their feelings are affecting them and affecting the other involved family members and employees and also their performance on the farm. Self-aware people are better able to accept constructive criticism so that they can improve their performance and are also able to limit their criticism of their partners to respectful constructive criticism. Self-awareness permits a better balancing of individual purposes with the group's purposes and can result in achievable common goals and compatible expectations. he problems can then be resolved by open discussions about the issue in conflict and how to best involve each person in ongoing management.
A second step is often to deal with the impact of personal conduct on the relationships. Too often, one or more of the involved family members are unable to effectively manage their moods, emotions and impulses, which can adversely affect personal and business relationships. People who have self-control understand that they are responsible for what they say, how they say it and the impact it has on others. They can present their perspectives and constructive criticism without damaging relationships. A leader with self-control can call the group together, present his or her perspective and feelings and his or her proposed solution to a problem. He or she can change a position to a perspective, listen, consider and then help the group to work toward the best answer for the benefit of the farm and everyone involved. Self-control is the foundation for effective group management. Often, the group will need to establish rules of conduct to assure that everyone's interests are adequately protected.
A third step may be to focus on increasing the level of empathy between those involved in management. Within a business, concern and empathy for the others involved is critical. Each member needs to be thoughtful and to consider both the business facts and the other partner's feelings when sharing management and making management decisions. Personal and business opinions and concerns must be respectfully and proactively communicated to the others. This often requires regular meetings and commitment to treating everyone fairly. Empathy provides the foundation that permits open and honest communication, especially when matters require constructive criticism. People are more open to candid discussions, listening and being flexible when they believe that the others are concerned about them. It is essential that members be encouraged to speak openly about their expectations, opinions and even frustrations.
In summary, successful business relationships are founded on a shared vision for the farm, understood and compatible expectations and open, consistent and respectful communications.
Twohig is a partner in Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach, S.C., a Chilton law firm that specializes in ag law. Call Twohig at 920-849-4999.