Nov 22, 2018
Elaine Froese, C.S.P. is a professional speaker, writer and business coach who specializes in helping farm families work through tough issues surrounding succession, business and communication—not only to meet and talk, but to act! Faith Today magazine recently dubbed Elaine “Canada’s Farm Whisperer,” an interesting title for someone who has coached families across Canada for the past 10 years and sat at kitchen tables for over 35 years.
Elaine has been a columnist in Grainews for 20 years and appeared regularly on Canada’s national AgVision TV. She is the award-winning author of Planting the Seed of Hope: A Celebration of Prairie Life, Do the Tough Things Right, Farming’s In-Law Factor and her newest book, Building Your Farm Legacy. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.
As someone who grew up on a farm and currently farms with her family in southwestern Manitoba, Elaine understands agriculture from the ground up—and her expertise is sought after across Canada and farming areas in the U.S. Many folks tell Elaine that they “wish they had met her ten years ago.”
On potential trouble spots with the in-law dynamic on the farm:
The cover of my book Farming’s In-Law Factor features a single brown egg among white eggs. I get a lot of comments from women in agriculture saying, “Elaine, I am that brown egg.” Of course in farming you have two systems, and the family system is highly interlinked to the business system. The In-Law Factor is mainly about daughters-in-law coming on to be a part of a farm where their husband is the successor and sons-in-law coming to the farm where their wife is the successor. When you’ve got people without a farm background joining the family and the operation, first there’s got to be an effort to educate them and provide insight into the farm culture. Second, you’ve got to learn to do conflict well—attacking the problem, not the person. If you can do that, it will lead to more harmony on the farm. Farming’s In-Law Factor is about making sure everyone on the farm team has a voice and that everyone knows what all the roles and expectations are. It’s kind of a textbook for all the ag schools across America that do a communication class...because when you get an ag degree, you usually only do three hours on communication—and that’s not enough.
Tools to help us become more aware of expectations we
have for other people:
On my website I have a free 19-piece toolkit available to help people communicate better and grow stronger on their farm. To get clear about unwritten expectations, one of those tools is the Ultimate Decision Maker—how many decisions are Dad’s full say, how many are the successor’s full say, and how many are they making together? Another is to do the sheet called What Do You Want, or to just talk about it. And I use a Beanie Baby bull as a talking stick, too, Dean. Whoever has the bull in the family meeting is the only one who can talk, and if you want to speak you have to ask for the bull. If you don’t have it, you listen. Another one of my tools is the Key Challenge Audit--A checklist of 32 statements, one of which deals with anxiety over the uncertainty of my future. Frequently young people check that one off because expectations are not talked about and they don’t know what THE PLAN is.
On the challenge of being the "brown egg":
Marilee Adams wrote a great book called Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. Are you going to become a learner who takes responsibility for the choices you’re making? Or are you going to become a judger and work yourself down into that “poor me” victim mentality? First, are you expressing your voice as a respectful adult? Are you taking the time to collect your thoughts on paper? Do you have positive conflict strategies? Can you put yourself in the other person’s shoes to see their side? Embrace conflict but express your ideas in an open, honest, respectful and constructive way. Stay away from yelling and drama. Also, remember that you get the behavior you accept. If a daughter-in-law is not being treated well, she should write down her thoughts, ask for a meeting with her in-laws (with her husband by her side), do it after lunch and when everyone’s well rested, and address the issue and her frustrations openly. Use the format “I think...I feel...I need...I want...”
On common principles at work on farms with successful
First, do not assume anybody is going to retire. A study of Iowa farmers showed that 30% of them say they will never retire, so language matters: “Dad, what is your plan for handing over some of the responsibilities as you age?” It’s also important, as you plan the transition, to lock in target dates and timelines; this helps you avoid what William Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” which represents the pain of not knowing. Remember how I said the younger farmers often checked the box dealing with anxiety over the uncertainty of their future? So do the older farmers, but their anxiety is around what gives their lives meaning and purpose as they age on the farm.
On tools for the veteran farmer to use in grooming the
next generation for farm leadership:
They should encourage peer-to-peer networking with other farmers in the next generation. They are great places to share ideas and be mentored by others. That might mean shuffling duties at the farm and making time for it, but it really is necessary. Being a lifelong learner and building relationships with your farm’s team of advisors are also key. I also encourage financial transparency between both generations. It can be a good idea to build a team of advisors together. The families that are more communicative, maintain a culture of learning together, and are more transparent with finances will have better results with mentoring because there are no surprises.
A final takeaway from this conversation:
I have an old tagline I sometimes used to close out my speeches: “Remember, its your farm. It’s your family. It’s your choice.” Coaches often say counseling is about recovery and discovery. What would you like to discover in this next three months (farming “off season”) about the roles you’re playing in your own life? You always get to wake up every morning and choose your response. What are you going to choose to make it better?
Thanks for listening! Questions or comments on this episode? Drop Dean a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.