David Marrison and Emily Buxton Adams
DON’T DERAIL THE TRAIN: Emily Buxton Adams and David Marrison share ways to keep the farm transition train on track during family discussions and meetings.

Avoid family train wreck during farm transition

Experts offer 10 tips geared toward preventing family blowups while transitioning to the next generation.

Is there a train wreck in your future? Not a real train wreck, but an event that could be just as devastating. It’s the blowup that could tear apart your family when it’s time to pass the farming operation to the next generation.

David Marrison and Emily Buxton Adams, both Extension educators with Ohio State University, recently presented “Avoiding Farm Family Communication Train Wrecks” at the Midwest Women in Ag Conference. They discussed barriers that can inhibit communication and stressed the importance of creating an environment that feels safe for all individuals within the family, fostering better working relationships.

Emotions can run rampant, especially when dealing with something as sensitive and important as transitions within the family farm. Being intentional with the goal of effective dialogue is worth the effort in the long run.

Marrison and Adams offered these specific 10 tips that should help "keep the train on the rails."

1. Recognize the importance of hard conversations. Crucial conversations are often tough, and most people will share 90% of what needs to be said. But that last 10% can also be the most crucial.

2. Set aside adequate time for the discussion. While there’s always work to be done, carving out a designated time for family meetings and establishing an advisory board goes a lot further than a few words spoken over the hood of a truck in the field.

3. Show up as an adult. Face and handle hard conversations, and take control of emotions when responding, without sending mixed messages.

4. Account for the generational divide. Perspectives and approaches will differ from generation to generation. While neither is right nor wrong, it’s beneficial to realize that someone from the “silent generation” is going to have a different mindset than a millennial. 

5. Recognize possible gender differences. Men and women are different in how they think and respond. Often those roles can be muted. Make sure each person understands his or her role within the operation, ensuring that everyone has a voice.

6. Understand there may be language barriers. A farm family can have their own language that in-laws might not understand. Use terminology that everyone is familiar with.

7. Realize there could be pressure from all sides. A man can’t answer to three women: his mother, his mother-in-law and his wife. Neither can a woman answer to her husband, her father and her father-in-law. Take these dynamics into account before the situation becomes tense.

8. Be willing to receive criticism. It’s not easy to receive criticism, but effective conflict should mean growth in the end.

9. Be patient with the journey. Transition takes time. It doesn’t just happen or necessarily feel just right overnight. In the meantime, be helpful and express gratitude for each person.

10. Get to the depth of the conflict. There are different levels of communication. With risk and vulnerability come more open communication, honesty and understanding, which prevents hurt feelings and misunderstandings later.

In addition, Marrison and Adams suggest the following resources: "Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti" by Bill and Pam Farrel; "Farming’s In-Law Factor"  by Elaine Froese; and  "Crucial Conversations" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler.

McClain writes from Greenwood.

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