The Recovering Farmer

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Talking So Others Listen

My focus of late seems to have been communication. How to listen. Conflict management. I have mentioned “talking” as well. But perhaps we need to take a closer look at that. Not talking is not an option. Although I sometimes try that when I am upset and find out that as much as I want to punish the other person or at least make my point the lack of talking is not effective. All it does is make matters worse and for all intents and purposes makes me feel miserable and leads to resentment. Carrie Fisher said; “resentment is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die”.

Have you ever said something to someone with the best of intentions and found out the other person is quite upset with what was said? I suspect that happens far too often. Why is that? It boils down to a few simple, yet complicated, issues. First of all each person views the world through a different lens. These lenses are influenced by cultural differences, personalities, social contexts, and upbringing to name a few. What also plays a pivotal role in interpretation is “how” we are. As the saying goes; “we don’t see things as they are we see them as we are”.

Let me introduce you to a conflict management model called Intent-Action-Effect. We do or say things with a certain intention based on our world view. That action can have varying degrees of effect on the receiving end of the action or spoken words based on the recipient’s world view. And that is where the conflict can begin. As that conflict escalates participants have a tendency to withdraw or fight back rather than to seek understanding.

This is where it becomes important to shift from judgement to curiosity. Becoming curious is not easy when high emotions are involved. It takes discipline. It takes a real effort. It becomes imperative to have an open and forthright conversation. Through naming the action and discovering what the intent was provides the opportunity to understand. To describe the effect provides understanding as well. I know that many of the situations I am involved with might not have been a situation at all had these principles been followed.

That then requires listening, as I mentioned last time, but also requires the ability to speak clearly and effectively. The ability to speak so others listen is also an art. Think before you speak. Then speak clearly and concisely. Be assertive. Express your perspective and thoughts. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions. And reveal your interests. Remember. People close up if they feel blamed, dominated, manipulated or dismissed.

Our words can have a profound effect on the listener. All too often it can be a negative effect. That will happen. But if we show curiosity to better understand, something negative can become a positive. With enough practice this can become a natural. Soon you will notice that people open up when they have freedom and choice, feel acceptance and openness, and they are respected and acknowledged. Let’s change our world with one conversation at a time. Make it a good one.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

To Do or Not to Do

Last week, during my stint as a teacher, a question that was asked made me think. The students were curious about how to start the conversation on succession/transition planning. I thought it strange that the younger generation would ask that as I had assumed that, under normal circumstances, it would be the older generation that would start the conversation.

But as I thought about that I realized that the whole concept of succession can be daunting for most anyone. There is so much at stake. The process seems so complicated. Am I ready for this? Will this work out? Is the younger generation ready for this? What about the next generation that is not interested? What is fair? What is equitable? Where do I start? The list of questions can appear endless and overwhelming.

The younger generation has a different approach. They are filled with energy. They are excited about new opportunities. They want to move ahead. To them it often seems rather simple. Something that needs to be done so let’s do it.

There are certain issues within the planning process that will be a challenge. Often times they are what I call “soft” issues. Issues that deal with feelings and emotions. Issues that involve wants, fears, needs and desires. Issues that require honest and forthright communication. These issues are often more difficult to deal with than the “hard” issues. Issues such as taxation or land values or equipment needs.

To be involved in these conversations requires that participants are keenly aware of their communication styles and conflict management abilities. Through assertive communication techniques participants must have the ability to listen and gain understanding. Often these issues have been left untouched, sometimes they have festered, sometimes they have caused hard feelings. They need to be dealt with or they have the potential to derail the best made plans. Speak clearly and listen closely.

Conflict management styles play a significant role. When an eager, energetic younger generation meets the cautious, experienced older generation conflict can and will happen. That invites a number of different responses. Varying degrees of commitment to goals and commitment to relationships can significantly influence the outcome. With low commitments to goals and relationships one party or the other will avoid and walk away. With low commitment to goals but high commitment to relationships suggests that one or the other will accommodate to keep the peace. With some commitment to goals and relationships there is compromise meaning both parties concede and neither one gets what they would like. With a high commitment to goals and low commitment to relationships there is a tendency to compete which leaves one party a potential loser. To discover a healthy balance with a strong commitment to goals and relationships requires a healthy dose of effective communication and collaboration to achieve a win-win scenario.

At times the process can make the participants feel like they are swimming against the current. It has the potential to be exhausting with no perceived progress. However there is too much at stake to procrastinate or do nothing. Fortunately there are professionals out there that can assist. Often times it is beneficial to have a third party involved. Someone who can facilitate the conversation by being neutral and being able to flesh out the wants, needs, fears, and desires of the participants. So the challenge is to arise to the challenge. Make it a good one.

“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you will see obstacles.” Wayne Dyer

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Art of Listening

Just last month we were again reminded to talk about it through the Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign. As I think back to topics I have touched on over the years the subject of talking has come up frequently. I am a huge proponent of talking about it when we feel “off”. I know the significant help that has been for me.

Recently I received a call from a woman who was carrying a family secret with her that she found quite burdensome. She needed to talk about it and as a result of hearing about my presentation at Agdays she felt she could trust me. She talked, I listened. The secret she had thought would go to the grave with her had caused significant pain for her. So I listened. The stuff she talked about was not something I have any expertise in but I was able to validate and acknowledge the hurt she felt. When I hung up after the call I felt that I had failed her. I felt I should have said more. Perhaps offer some answers. I received an email from her a week later where she thanked me for taking the time. She expressed how much better she felt, how she felt that a huge burden had been lifted.

I went back to school this week. Not as a student but as a teacher. I talked to a group of students in the Ag department at the University of Manitoba. They are learning all about succession planning and wanted information on starting a conversation with their parents on succession, and when that conversation has started how to keep the process moving.

A significant part of my presentation dealt with listening. I know for myself I often think that when I am involved in a conversation I must talk. And that can mess up a conversation real quick. So often I find myself formulating my next thought or response while the other person is talking to me. Well, guess what. That would probably suggest I was not listening.

As I suggested to the students, effective communicators listen more than they talk. And just because I listen closely when someone else talks does not mean I agree. Rather it’s a matter of gaining understanding. We must turn from judgement to curiosity. It is interesting how gaining understanding empowers both parties to express feelings, to share wants, needs, and desires. It helps in achieving a collaborative approach for a win-win outcome.

Dr. Ralph Roughten has written some good thoughts on listening. Let me share a few of them.

“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice
you have not done what I have asked.”

“When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me
why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on
my feelings.”

“Listen! All I asked was that you listen,
Not talk or do - just hear me.”

Listening more effectively is an art. It can be very difficult because of our sense that we should be responding. We should be providing advice or answers. But as with the woman who called me she did not need answers. She did not need advice. She needed a listening ear with a touch of validation and acknowledgement. So simple, yet so difficult. Listen more, understand more, love more. Make it a good one.

“The biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Regular Maintenance

Anyone that owns a car knows that regular maintenance is important. Okay. Let me rephrase that. Most people understand this. For some reason I don’t fall into that category. I will remember to gas up the car when needed. I occasionally get the oil changed. That is about the extent of my maintenance. I have a dreaded fear of garages because I know it will always cost a lot of money. Call it what you may. Denial or avoidance.

As human beings living our lives we also need to be cognizant of regular maintenance. I would suggest that applies to our physical bodies but also to our mental and emotional well-being. That comes easier for some than others, depending on our tolerance to what life throws our way. I have referred to our emotional gas tank in the past. What does it take to keep it full? Sometimes as simple as a few minutes of meditation, a day of relaxation, a week of vacation, or various other ways and means to get rid of stress or negative energy that we ingest on a regular basis. Simply put, we need ways to find a life balance. But for some of us it sometimes requires more. A professional that can guide us back to a path of contentment.

Shortly after the start of 2016 I found myself sliding down a slope I did not want to be on. Things did not feel right. I had memories of the same thing happening last year and it scared me. I did not want to go back there. So the decision was made to seek help.

I had my first appointment last week. Had an interesting conversation with the therapist. She wanted to get to know me, find out about my life, to help her identify where I needed fixing. Although it was a short conversation I identified things in my life that had shaped who I was that I had not really been aware of before. Certainly got me thinking.

After a while she asked me what it was that I really wanted from her. I suspect the question came because she found out what type of work I do and the training I have had. I think she probably felt that I was well aware of what I needed. And I probably was. Perhaps I just needed someone to whom I could verbalize many of my thoughts, my fears, my wants and desires. Someone I could trust and feel safe in sharing with.

I suggested to her that first and foremost I needed to take control of my mind, my stinking thinking as it were. She responded rather quickly that she had an easy trick for that. Her answer almost discouraged me. I had heard of so many things in the past which just never seemed to work for me. I knew I was guilty of giving up to easily. And yet, I was ready to try almost anything.

She asked me to close my eyes and think of something, anything. She then said I should think about that till she clapped her hands and then I was to drop my tongue. Sounds weird, I know, but hear me out. We did that once. She asked me what I noticed. Quite frankly I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to notice. So we did it again. And after I had dropped my tongue and opened my eyes I got it. When I dropped my tongue my mind went clear. No longer was I thinking about what I had been thinking about. It worked.

Next time you are deep in thought about an issue take note of where your tongue is. You will find it is firmly placed against the roof of your mouth. She explained to me that research has shown that when you drop your tongue it is virtually impossible to think clearly about anything. I have tried it countless times since and like I say it works for me. Perhaps this is something that can work for you as well. Try it. Make it a good one.

“When you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.”
David Burns