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Sharpen communications skills to keep farm running smoothly

2.5 min read

Determining individual strengths and weaknesses and where everybody fits in a farm operation is a challenge that can be made easier with good interpersonal skills.

“It’s a risk if you don’t have good interpersonal skills, and communication skills in particular,” says Karin Naslund of Legacy Family Business Advisors and LifeBright Learning, based in Camrose, Alta.


It’s important to communicate effectively, to be very specific, detailed and supportive, she says.

“The interpersonal part and building the relationships with the people you’re working with is critical for retaining staff,” Naslund says.

The trouble is these skills haven’t received much attention, making it particularly challenging for new hires, who are burdened with the expectation they’ll hit the ground running with little communication necessary.

“There’s an assumption that maybe they have been on a farm or have knowledge about farming, and they will know specifically how to go about doing something,” Naslund says.

Strengths and weaknesses

Everyone stresses playing to strengths, but how do you get there?

“Are you willing to do performance appraisals or give difficult feedback when people are no long performing at your level of expectations?” asks producer and farm family transition coach Elaine Froese.

Sometimes employees don’t match the roles and responsibilities they’ve been given, notes Ken Keis, president and CEO of Consulting Resource Group. But, he asks, has the manager really paid attention to what that person is best at?

“Before you can really have deep relationships, you need to understand the personal style or personality of the other people,” Keis says.

Push for change

Millennials and Generation Z drive for more transparency on the farm, attempting to do away with secrecy while opening lines of communication, according to Keis.

Adds Froese: “Decision-making is an interpersonal skill that affects whether or not people feel they have collaborative decision making - and it’s win-win for everyone - or whether they feel it’s autocratic or almost dictatorial.”

She explains the younger generations learned different management styles and people skills in college and working off the farm.

Further, they’re more intent on treating the farm as a business, and they have a greater realization that the interpersonal piece is critical to a successful operation, says Naslund.

Generational gap

The result is a generation gap, with the future successors frustrated by their perception of the previous generation’s poor communication skills.

Meanwhile, the older generation is convinced kids these days don’t deal well with criticism.

Technology may be the culprit, as face-to-face conversations have been replaced by instant responses on smartphones. The trouble is, the latter lacks the tonality of verbal communication, Froese points out.

Bottom line

A focus on understanding employees’ strengths and weaknesses and acknowledging generational differences are key to retaining a solid team of farm employees. Attention to these areas, experts say, is a form of risk mitigation.

Article by: Richard Kamchen

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