Addressing difficult issues on the farm

You may not be listed as the farm’s primary operator, but as a partner in the operation you may have to be the voice that begins the conversation about the future of the operation.

Many times this is a difficult conversation, as it can involve topics such as financial viability, transition of management and control of the operation and operation expansion or enterprise change.

During these financially stressed times, the record keeper may be the person who has to start a difficult conversation about the current lack of cash flow and the future of the operation.

These are all topics that can be a challenge for farm businesses to tackle, so the discussion is simply avoided. However, avoiding the conversation doesn’t help, and, in fact, many times it makes the situation much worse.

Many of us have a tendency to bottle things up when we become stressed and don’t talk to those who could help solve problems or make decisions.

You may even think you are protecting others in the family and/or business, but really they probably have a pretty good idea of what is going on within the business.

Sometimes it takes just one brave person to start the conversation, and then others will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

First step

In order to help eliminate some of the stress, the first step you must take is to determine that a conversation is needed and who needs to be involved in the conversation.

Once you have come to the conclusion, you will need to prepare for the discussion. Gather your information, financial records, University fact sheets, magazine articles, etc.

Few questions

A few questions to ask yourself as you prepare include:

– What is my purpose for this discussion?

– What outcome do I see coming from this discussion?

– What do I think the other person(s) reaction will be to my information and thoughts?

– What ‘hot buttons’ exist for me and for the other person(s)?

Before you have this conversation, practice what you will say and how you will say it. You may even want to practice the conversation out loud with a trusted advisor or friend.

Another’s opinion may help you organize your points in a more logical manner or simply point out areas that you could give a better explanation.

A priority

When you get ready to have the conversation, choose a time and location that works for all that will be involved. Set a time in advance and keep that time. Make it a priority.

Too often, we say we’ll get to that later or we set a time and then something that seems more important at the moment comes up and we never get back to that important conversation.

Once you get the time and location, be sure that there will be no interruptions. Turn cell phones off, leave children with a baby-sitter and shut the door to the outside for an hour or two to give your undivided attention to the topic at hand.

Be assertive

As you begin the conversation, be assertive but not aggressive.

It is important that you are confident in the information and your opinions as you discuss the issues, but don’t forget you are all on the same team.

Listen

Listening is another important aspect of good communication. If the others involved in the conversation feel like they are being heard, then they are more likely to listen as you share your thoughts.

Make sure your body language is reflective of listening and you’re not sending mixed signals. Be prepared for emotions to be a part of your conversation.

Farming is a unique business and very much a part of who we are, so any conversation about change to the current situation can be emotional.

Work together to separate the emotions from the facts, but still acknowledge the emotions are tied to the issue.

Stay on track

Keeping the conversation on track can be a challenge, but it is important to keep aligned with the main purpose of the conversation in order to make decisions about the future.

Even though it seems formal, written notes might be helpful for keeping the conversation on track and hitting all the points you have in mind. Work together as a team to find mutually agreeable solutions to your issues and plans for your farm operation’s future.

Keep talking about options until you find one that will work for all those involved. Solutions, more than likely, are not going to be determined in one conversation. It will take time to work through ideas and workable resolutions.

The important thing is to start the conversation and keep the lines of communication open. If you seem to be spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, it may be time to look for help outside of the farm.

You may want to involve an outside advisor, such as a farm lender, a mediator or an Extension educator. I know this all may seem next to impossible some days, but you will be thankful in the long run that you took time to have the difficult conversations.

Head on

By approaching difficult conversations head on, your farm/family will be able to make decisions to determine your future rather than someone else making those decisions for you.

About the Author

(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Ashland County.) More Stories by Julia Nolan Woodruff

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