Conversations about the family operation will never be a simple process. While these conversations will always be challenging, successful resolution is possible. A few communication strategies go a long way toward ensuring individuals are heard and consensus is reached.
We always encourage our customers to do some prep work before sitting down with the family. This includes laying out talking points, doing some research and even potentially bringing in a third party to help mediate. However, while having an agenda will certainly help you reach your goals for the conversation, what can you do to keep the discussion on track? The tips below can help keep the conversation from devolving into an argument.
- Be intentional. While some conversations are emotional, it’s vital to be intentionally patient, thoughtful and kind. Be aware of your body language and make sure you appear open and receptive. Above all, take time to listen to what others are saying without appearing defensive. Don’t shy away from apologizing if needed; these discussions aren’t about who is right, they are about what is right for the farm.
- Know when to take a break. Things can easily get heated and people can begin to lose their tempers. If this happens, take a 10- to 15-minute break to give everyone a chance to cool down. It may be necessary to pause the conversation and schedule a different time to pick it back up.
- Focus on what matters. In the end, two things are most important: Your relationship with your family and long-term success of the operation. The person who controls the assets is ultimately the one who must make decisions. Don’t sacrifice the joy of rewarding family relationships or the overall success of the operation for short-term gains.
You may want to consider scheduling regular family meetings. When these kinds of conversations become a regular part of the operation, it relieves tension and helps people open up over time. Annual family meetings can include discussions on financial performance, short-term and long-term goals, and planned production improvements.
Whether it’s a discussion on purchasing land or estate planning, farming is a family business that requires many difficult conversations. Keeping every discussion focused, intentional and knowing when to call it quits will help maintain positive relationships and positive results for the operation.