It’s easy to get along in good times. But what about when everyone is stressed? When a machine breaks down or corn prices tank or a key employee quits—does your communication style change? Chances are, it does.
Good communication is essential for a successful farming operation. Ensure you and your farming team keep the lines of communication open by watching for red flags that trigger a communication breakdown, suggests Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author who has specialized in rural mental health and family relationships during his 30-year career.
- Conflict avoidance. Humans, by nature, either confront conflict or bury it. “Most people don’t have an agreement on how to talk about hard issues when they are both ready to talk,” Farmer says. “Then the problems get worse and worse.”
Determine how each team member best deals with conflict, then make sure the conflict isn’t allowed to fester.
- Explosive conversations. “When anger triggers anger, you have two people angry at the same time and nobody is listening,” Farmer says. Problems cannot be solved unless both parties have their turn in the listening role.
“The only time that anger works in a conversation is when you have someone who is a good listener,” he says. “Good listening de-escalates anger as the angry person can’t stay angry, they want to be understood.”
- Criticism and negative comments. “A relationship needs to be 9/10 positive,” Farmer says. “If the ratio gets anywhere close to 50-50 it will seem like its 90% negative. You need to work overtime on building a relationship with positives. Then the occasional jerk behavior is no big deal.”
- Bad apologies. All people make mistakes that require a heartfelt and sincere apology. “But, a lot of people don’t know how to make a good apology, so people hold on to resentment,” Farmer says. “That resentment is a way of getting even for past troubles.”
Find a way to discuss previous hurt feelings that are lingering, otherwise they will be used as a weapon in an argument, he explains.
“There are a lot of reasons why farmers shut down and pull away,” Farmer says. “But the first priority is the happiness of the people on the family farm.”
So even though implementing better communication protocols on your farm will be difficult, the payback is priceless.