Whether it’s due to very different personalities or conflicting visions for the future, farm families often experience tension when making decisions about the future of the business. While every family has its own unique dynamic that can make those choices hard to discuss, these are the most common topics lead to disagreement:
- Whether to buy land or equipment
- When to start estate planning
- How to bring another family member into the operation
- Issues related to marriage and divorce
- Financial challenges
- Changes in management structure
- Labor issues
Operation-oriented discussions with family are a business conversation, first and foremost, and that calls for preparation. We encourage customers to do a few things before any family conversation:
Set aside the time. It’s important to approach family members and let them know you want to have a discussion. Don’t just sit down at Sunday dinner and start asking your relatives questions about estate planning; they may leave feeling attacked or disoriented. It is far more impactful to express concern about a certain issue and ask to talk about it. You can then find a time that works for all interested parties.
Gauge your family members. While brainstorming how to approach a certain issue, think about your family members’ personalities and anticipate their reactions. Try to identify and avoid any triggers, such as specific events or words, that have caused negative reactions in the past. The goal is to create an environment where each family member feels accepted and heard and is not put on the defensive.
Do your research and write things down. Prior to sitting down with family members, do some research. That could mean asking an expert for guidance or exploring options online. The more complicated the issue, the more research you should do. After you feel comfortable with available options, take time to write out your talking points, questions and goals for the conversation. This will help keep the conversation on track.
Consider bringing in a third party. If a topic is especially sticky, it may be best to bring in a third-party financial advisor, attorney or other expert. Conversations about money can be especially hard and individuals may be judged as protecting their own self-interests. A neutral third party can suggest solutions and provide professional guidance without this negative perception. Your loan officer can be a particularly wise choice as they have a holistic view of your operation’s short-term and long-term goals, as well as industry expertise.
Having family conversations about your business may not be easy, but avoiding these discussions can have a detrimental effect on your relationships and the farm. Taking the time to prepare and knowing when to bring in a third party can go a long way toward positive, healthy decision making for your family’s farm.