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Open the door to a new culture of communication

Agriculture.com Staff 04/11/2008 @ 11:00pm

I'm a daughter-in-law on a family farm. Over the years, my husband, Chet, had his difficulties with his parents, and although I observed much, I tried to stay out of the discussions and arguments.

Chet seemed to appreciate my silent loyalty. I helped out at harvest and in a pinch, but mostly I took care of the children and kept our family life on an even keel.

After his dad died three years ago, we took over the farm and most of the ownership. Mom still lives on the homeplace but doesn't interfere. Chet has gone from employee to employer, and we now work together. Surprisingly, this has left us (or perhaps it's only me) with a new set of problems.

I have taken over the books and other administrative duties. But I think because we never worked together or talked much about the farm in our early years, we aren't doing a good job at teamwork now.

Now the farm is on my mind all the time. There are many things I want to discuss with Chet. But he never has time. When finally, at the end of the evening, I want to bring up my concerns and ideas, he fumes at this kind of pillow talk.

We need to work better together, but how can we begin if we never can discuss the farm?

Their business situation has changed immensely, but they're still operating under the same culture that existed when Dad was alive.

Chet's dad most likely seldom discussed issues with him, made his own decisions, and went his own way. The value was work, getting the job done, not talking about it.

Chet wasn't a real partner to his dad, and now that he has a real partner of his own, he has no experience to help him work with her. After a long day of doing, he recoils at the prospect of a long night of talking.

L.H. is right. As working partners, they need to develop a joint understanding on purpose and direction. It won't happen without words and numbers -- both written and spoken.

Pillow talk is not the answer. Instead, some science must be applied here and some art.

L.H. could start by suggesting a meeting with their accountant to establish a clearer and more objective shared understanding of the facts of the farm operation.

They should use these numbers to outline goals for the next year or two and to develop reports for measuring progress objectively.

They should decide who is responsible for which goal and for which function on the farm. They should set priorities and the how-tos of getting there. That's the science.

The art is harder. They need to open -- and walk through -- a door to a new culture of communication. Old habits are hard to break.

They must set aside serious time to meet regularly in a business setting away from daily distractions and the bedroom; to focus on facts with open minds; and to commit to leaving emotions at the door by sticking to a business agenda and using advisers to help them do it.

This means talking about the business, just as we do about our children and our marriage.

I'm a daughter-in-law on a family farm. Over the years, my husband, Chet, had his difficulties with his parents, and although I observed much, I tried to stay out of the discussions and arguments.

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