Conflict; I admit I am not a fan of it, but conflict is not always a bad thing. In fact, “different is not wrong; it’s just different.” If you had the opportunity to attend the last 2011-2012 Farmers & Ranchers College program for the season, you might recognize those words from Elaine Froese. In Discuss the Undiscussabull, she highlighted some important points every farm family should consider.
Froese points out that most parents want to retire with a secure income stream, a happy family who comes home, and not having to deal with conflicts and serve as a referee. So ask yourself, what do you desire for your parents? Do you wish they can enjoy their hard earned income and live life as they desire, or do you desire them to be in the middle of an ugly sibling fight and feel as if they are only wanted for their money or assets? Froese poised the question, “What do you as parents owe your children?” An overwhelming majority of participants, said, “Nothing.” I know personally I hope my parents are able to enjoy retirement and certainly don’t expect any inheritance from them, after all they raised me and as a parent myself can only imagine the grief they had to put up with along the way.
Often times conflict and hard feelings among one another are from miscommunication or not fully understanding each others’ expectations. Sit down with one another, not during a family meal or holiday, but during a family meeting so no one is blindsided and separate family from business. Froese provided ten tools for instigation of the tough issues:
1. (Parents) TAKE CHARGE. Don’t let your children run all over you, no matter how old or stubborn they might be, it is your decision what you want to do with YOUR money/assets, but make sure you take time to discuss it.
2. Come from curiosity. Don’t assume you know what each side is thinking. Clarify everyone’s expectations.
3. Ask deeply. What are you trying to say to each other? Ask open-ended questions and be soft on the person and hard on the problem.
4. Play with possibility. Be positive and imagine the different scenarios that could transpire. Use a “talking stick” or some visual tool which allows only the person with that object to talk; everyone else should listen. Don’t prejudge each other or the situation.
5. Really listen. Build understanding by ensuring that you truly understand what that person is saying.
6. Ponder and perk, not prod. Its okay to give you time to process what is being said. It’s best to “let silence do the heavy lifting” and leave if you get too upset and might say something you will regret later. Consider the other’s perspective.
7. Cultivate trust. Be accountable for your actions and what you say you will do. Build a family culture of fairness, respect and commitment. Remember that fair is not always equal and equal is not always fair.
8. Respect boundaries. Clear each other’s roles. During family meetings, don’t think of Dad as “Dad” or Mom as “Mom”, think of them as the farm’s manager or president so if you don’t agree with that person’s decision you can at least appreciate they are making a business decision, and you should not take it personally.
9. We all end up in a box. “Why fight over stuff you can’t take with you in a box?” Have you ever seen a funeral procession with a trailer full of things behind it?
10. Extend the olive branch. Pass on authority and learn to “let go”. Stubbornness and pride won’t build families. Create a family legacy of open communication and relationships. Parents should ask their children, “When did you ever get the idea that you are entitled to xxxxx?”
Elaine then explained how there is an emerging group of baby boomers coined as “waiters”. They wait for their parents to die so they can collect their money or possessions often because they haven’t lived within their means, have difficulty holding jobs or other financial difficulties. Instead of taking the necessary steps in financial planning, they plan on their parents to give them a “nest egg” to retire.
Then there is the dynamic of the non-farm siblings coming home to “collect” from mom and dad, often with no understanding of the family farm or finances. The child who put sweat equity into the farm should be given credit for managing the farm through the good times and the bad. Too many families are destroyed by not just taking time to sit down and openly and clearly communicate with each other; using a neutral person as a mediator is better than just giving up. Michael Pantalon in “Instant Influence” asks the following: why might you change, how ready are you to change, think of positive outcomes, and what is the next step?
More information on family farm transitioning from Elaine can be found on her website. No farm is worth the price of losing a family; start those tough conversations now!