Better run farms start with good communication

Good communication is key to the success of any farming operation. And, according to Elaine Froese, certified farm business coach, her farm family clients want to learn to communicate without conflict or emotion.

Some business coaches use personalitytype indicator tests (like Meyers Briggs, DISC and Kolbe) to help clients understand why people behave in certain ways. There is value in that approach, “but the issue isn’t that people are different; that can be a strength,” says Froese, who has a personal/ business role in a 5,000-acre pedigreed seed farm in Manitoba.

“The issue is that we need to communicate and, on our own farm, we communicate in a way that nobody fights, nobody swears, nobody yells, nobody throws stuff. When there is frustration, it’s like, ‘I’m frustrated,’ or, ‘tell me why this didn’t get done,’ or ‘how can I help you?'”

While most farm families who reach out to a business coach are already knee-deep in conflict and negative emotion, they likely aren’t talking about what matters, she adds. But avoiding contentious subjects makes the problem worse. “We talk to each other to learn. When we don’t talk, we don’t learn.”

EMBRACE THE CONFLICT

Conflict regarding the inter-generational transfer of farm assets is one of the main reasons farm families hire a business coach. “In the culture of agriculture, many farmers do not want to retire. But they do need to reinvent their role, so if we use the word ‘transition’ instead of ‘succession’ to get this conversation started, it’s a bit more accurate,” explains Froese. “The transition still has to be in terms of labour, management and ownership, but it implies a strategy that’s likely to take some time versus happen all at once.”

While transition planning is fraught with conflict, that doesn’t mean farm families shouldn’t talk about it, says Froese. “Let’s say a husband doesn’t want to talk to a financial planner and his wife thinks that talk is critical. He rates it a two out of 10 and she says it’s an eight.”

That couple may think their positions are too far apart to have a meaningful discussion about the topic, but that’s not true, insists Froese. By starting the conversation and identifying divergent positions there is now quantitative evidence to work with. “The conversation doesn’t end with different opinions, it begins with different opinions.”

The same holds true for emotion. “It’s a myth to think we have to learn to keep emotion out of business,” she says. “We have to learn to manage emotion, but it should not be dismissed.”

WHAT’S YOUR COMMUNICATION STYLE?

To kickstart improved communication, and better channel conflict and emotion, families can download the free Farm Family Tool Kit at elainefroese.com. The kit’s Communication Styles Assessment tool identifies whether a person’s communication style is motivated by action, process, people or ideas.

It also provides strategies for how to best communicate with people who have different communication styles. An individual whose style emphasizes action is likely to use fewer words than someone with a different communication style. Froese says that can be an issue between her and her husband. He’s very action/task oriented, while her focus is ideas/big picture; he uses few words, she needs more.

By understanding the differences in how they each communicate, Froese has learned to ask her husband the questions she needs answered. If she doesn’t do that, she’s likely to misunderstand what he’s trying to tell her. That’s how the couple once found themselves waiting for each other at the wrong place. “He asked me to pick him up at the barn, but I went to the wrong one.”

Someone whose communication style emphasizes process will need time to talk about the pros and cons of different options. When there’s pressure to take action, the process-oriented individual will want reassurance the decision is based on a plan to generate the best outcome.

The people-oriented communicator wants to know how decisions impact others, adds Froese. These individuals want examples of how decisions worked in the past and how these decisions affected people. The idea-oriented person needs different information. They want to know why a particular decision makes sense and they want time to think about future implications.

None of these communication styles is right or wrong, says Froese. Indeed, each style can benefit a farm operation by leading its principals to consider more information.

Froese recommends farm families work through the assessment individually, then meet to discuss their different communication styles. This step is so important she often asks new clients to work through the assessment before they meet with her. The bottom line is that people don’t merely benefit from knowing how others communicate, they also need to understand how their personal communication style impacts how others understand what they’re trying to communicate.

Learning to respect different communication styles takes time, and it may slow down some decisions. It’s also likely to generate more creative business decisions and nurture a more harmonious work environment. “When you understand each other’s communication style, you can create solutions,” says Froese. “Energy is drained with fighting and misinformation.” FF

Check out these online tools

No time to meet with a farm coach? Check out what Elaine Froese offers online at elainefroese.com. In addition to the free Farm Family Tool Kit, Froese has her own YouTube channel. Most of the videos focus on helping farm families talk about the issues that face their farms.