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How good mental health practices make for better business decisions

  • 3 min read

It’s easy to have plenty of emotion bubble to the surface when making decisions on the farm, especially during stressful or trying times. But balancing emotions and decision-making to remain pragmatic for the good of the farm and your employees is an important skill.

The role of emotions in decision making

“We’re closely tied to our farms, often through family legacies, or a long-standing commitment to the betterment of our industry,” says Lauren Van Ewyk, a social worker and owner of Wellspring Counseling Services in Courtright, Ont. “The difficult thing is that our emotions are not always trustworthy.”

Ask yourself some questions to figure out the emotional connection to the logical business decision.

Making farm business decisions based on either logic or emotion alone doesn’t usually work.

“We need to strive to find balance between both,” Van Ewyk says. “During periods of stress, we’re much more likely to make decisions out of our emotional side, which can easily lead to self-doubt and regret.”

Balancing strategies

Stress is not an emotion, but a symptom of one – often anger, sadness or fear. Van Ewyk suggests the following steps for balancing emotions with pragmatism to tackle on-farm decisions:

  • Acknowledge the fundamental emotion, then address the decision that’s causing the stress
  • Determine what you can and can’t control
  • Remember that there’s no one golden opportunity that will make or break a business
  • The farm can’t function properly without some degree of care and compassion for yourself

When decisions bring on stress, check the farm’s business plan and ask yourself some questions – be a detective to figure out the emotional connection to the logical business decision.

  • Reread your farm business plan
  • Identify what’s working and specifically what isn’t and why
  • Specify the barrier to addressing the problem you identified
  • Ask yourself why this issue causes an emotional response

Replace assumptions with facts

Farm stress can also arise when making decisions with a group, such as family farm partners.

Denise Filipchuck, a Saskatchewan-based farm management consultant and financial planner, says stress management means everyone brings their best communications practices to the meeting table.

Practice listening with the intent of understanding, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. And, she adds, take short breaks when signs of stress start to manifest physically, such as heavy breathing, sweating and louder and increasingly antagonistic conversation.

“Try to cool off and come back. It doesn’t have to be long. Even 20 or 30 minutes is enough to come back to a state where you can be yourself,” says Filipchuck, noting good communication highlights facts and eliminates assumptions.

Be honest with employees

When uncertain times hit the farm, employees can also feel and share the anxiety.

A business and human resource plan can help ease communication with employees during such times, according to Jennifer Wright, acting executive director and director of programs, operations and partnerships for the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council.

While it’s impossible to forecast every potential situation, giving thought to best and worst case scenarios mitigate stress when issues do arise and help you plan the conversation with employees.

Wright suggests keeping the following in mind when communicating with employees during stressful times on the farm:

  • Don’t be reactionary with communications
  • Avoid negative off-the-cuff remarks
  • Don’t speculate without sufficient information
  • Balance providing employees enough information with telling them every detail

“Ensure what you’re saying is accurate. Something could happen, and you think the sky is falling, but if you stop and think it through, it might not actually appear that way,” Wright says. “Communicate when you have concrete data and when you’re fairly certain about what’s going to happen.”

Bottom line

Our emotions can be closely linked with decision-making on the farm, especially during stressful or uncertain times. Balancing our emotions and logic is an important management skill that will help us, our farm partners and our employees. Planning, being honest with yourself and communicating the facts to employees can help mitigate the negative impacts of stress. 

Article by: Matt McIntosh