Conflict is not bad. Unresolved conflict is hurtful, frustrating and diverts good management energy toward drama.

Froese elaine
Certified Farm Family Coach
Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, CHICoach and her team of coaches are here to help you find harmony thro...

Just because there is drama on your farm, you don’t have to attend the performance. It is time for new tools.

Here are eight ways to navigate tough conversations.

1. Love does not read minds

You might think holding your cards “close to your chest” is prudent, but it is stupid. I have no idea what you are thinking, feeling, needing or wanting unless you tell me. People need to talk. Everyone needs to listen. Families are meant to be a source of nurture and love – a place to provide roots and wings.

2. Talk with a tone of grace and kindness

Do not use abrasive swearing or yelling. Honey is going to get you much further than a voice filled with vinegar. Listen to yourself. Do you like how you sound? Abrasiveness and profanity will not end with the results you want.


3. Share your intent

Intentions are hidden in our brains and come out when we share why we want certain things. Many of you have heard my cookie story where I talk about my nasty, interfering mother-in-law who puts baking in my freezer for her son (my husband) while I am away speaking. Or do you remember the nice mother-in-law who blesses me by putting baking in the freezer to support me when I am away and cannot bake for her son? The intention of my mother-in-law was not to be interfering, it was to be helpful. The same action, putting baking in the freezer, but the intents can be read two different ways.

How about starting a sentence with “It is not my intent, Mom and Dad, to sound greedy or entitled. I just need to know the plan for us as a younger couple to find a way to build equity on this farm. I need to decrease the anxiety over the uncertainty of my future and my family’s future.”

4. What does everyone want?

This is called the common interest. I suspect you all want a harmonious working relationship and a profitable farm. You also want people to have roles that give them meaning and purpose as they age in place on the farm. You likely don’t want to be in business with nonfarm heirs. People usually pull together in the same direction when they are clear about what they want and why.

Do you know what you want? For income streams? For housing? For fairness? When spouses don’t want the same things, you are likely going to get stuck with no plan. One spouse is tired and wants a new life away from the hustle of the farm while the other is not ready to move or let go of decision-making.

5. Pinches are tensions that build and are not resolved

In facilitated family meetings, we've had surprise announcements when people start opening up to talk about what they truly want and why some things (e.g. Grandfather’s quarter) are so important to them. You may not know anger is simmering in your spouse or your heir when hurt has been caused without your knowledge. There may also be a fear of failure when founders assume the next generation will not be able to manage debt or risk on the farm.

Can you identify what is causing you to feel pinched or tense?

6. That was then, and this is now

Sometimes conflict is born from unrealistic expectations. In the ’80s and ’90s, many farmers struggled to keep their farms, and they remember the pain of selling land to settle debt. Fast forward 40 years, and we now have nonfarm children coming back to farm parents asking for large gifts of land. Fighting about expectations over land inheritance is a conflict to be addressed, not passed on to the next generation without an explanation of why you want to keep the farmland intact for the farming successors.

Where is it written that your job as parents and founders is to keep all your children economically equal? This is not workable. Lawyer Mona Brown explains her profession has tools to make sure land is used for agriculture and not flipped a few short years after the land transfer.

7. Can you be a reconciler?

Every conflict/resolution story involves someone being willing to acknowledge wrongdoings and work toward creating a solution. When I ask families about their models of forgiveness, they are dumbfounded. How do you make things right when there is an offense caused, harm done or things broken?

Author Gary Chapman writes in The 5 Apology Languages: The Secret to Healthier Relationships (co-authored with Jennifer Thomas), that an apology may not be enough. What are you willing to do to make things right? Do you need to change your actions and behaviour? Is restitution necessary?

8. Would you invest in outside help to create clear communication?

Many farmers are independent types who love to fix things on their own. This may work on your favourite old baler, but it is not a great formula when emotions are running high. The job of a facilitator/coach is to keep the family conversation safe and respectful.