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Resolving Conflicts in the Family Business Starts with You

Multi-generational farming and ranching — it truly is such a gift. Working alongside family. Having that support system. Lending each other a helping hand. Experiencing the seasons of life together. Building dreams and growing the business that was started by previous generations.

Yes, it’s a blessing, until it’s not.

In my travels to speak across the country at agricultural events, I often get very real and raw about the ups and downs of living and working in production agriculture. I know the realities of it myself, and in conversations with attendees, I’ve quickly discovered my family isn’t unique in having challenges that arise through the years.

For some, the pitfalls are minor. For other families, the difficulties are nuclear.

No matter where on that spectrum your family might fall, there is always room for improvement in order to strengthen the business functionality as well as your relationships with your loved ones.

We all have good intentions, right? We don’t want to be a statistic. We want to be the outlier. We want to be the family that enjoys each other’s company in our free time and enjoys working alongside each other on the ranch.

I’m pretty fortunate to have a great working relationship with my folks, but I’m not naive to think that it will always be harmonious without consistent effort and respect by all parties.

We aren’t in the stage of transitioning the ranch yet either, but I pay very close attention when I have the opportunity to listen to estate planners and experts in succession at conferences. I always try to bring home the best pieces of advice to our family operation.

As we think about that transitory stage and all of the potential pitfalls, I’m being mindful not to fall into that easy trap that perhaps maybe you’ve found yourself in.

Have you ever said about the other generation?

“If only they would….”

If only they would do this, or say that, or plan it out this way, or do it my way?

This applies to all active generations involved in the business. Let’s be honest. It is easy to critique and find fault in the other party. THEY should do things this way, and all of our problems would solved. If only THEY would change their ways, this would be so much easier.

You get the idea.

Have you ever been guilty of thinking or saying that phrase?

I know I have. And you know what I’ve realized? I can’t control or change the behaviors, habits, or outcomes of a situation outside of my control. Instead of pointing fingers, I need to turn things back on myself. I need to consider all points of view in every business situation. And I need to ask myself, “What can I do to remedy this family business issue in a positive manner?”

But I can listen closely. I can seek to understand. I can clearly communicate my ideas, values, suggestions, and questions I may have. Then once both sides have stated their piece, I can control my response. I can control my behavior. And I can control things at home — in my own household, with my own family, and my own pocketbook.

Don’t let overly optimistic wishful thinking of a certain outcome on the ranch cloud your judgment and determine the course of action for your financial future. Instead, understand what the other family members are communicating to you, and then steadily decide the next course of action for you.

We don’t have to sacrifice our relationships with our loved ones in order to make the farm and ranch successful. However, if we are to enjoy our family and build our businesses, it starts with us. We absolutely can determine a positive course for our family farms and ranches, if only we would try.

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