Cowboys coached to embrace courageous communication


In the Black Hills of Deadwood South Dakota Young Farmers and Ranchers had many texts for me at a presentation on Jan 21, 2022, my first in-person event in over 20 months.

When I asked the group of cowboys in their black Stetsons what was the one thing they grasped after 4 hours of interaction, it was “the importance of communication.” It is easy to say, but how do you put it into practice?

Here’s a random sampling of their private texts to me, see what lands for you on your farm or ranch:

1) What are your thoughts about my father listening to and understanding my wife, but not me? (I sat with this rancher at supper). Folks have different communication styles, some are very direct, brief and action-oriented. Some are geared to relationships first, then get down to business. Some need all the details in a logical order and like to process things before they give a response. Others just want time to explore lots of ideas without interruption or judgment. Action, people, process, or ideas. Perhaps you need to figure out how your father likes to receive messages. Also, check-in with him by using his phrases and words when you respond. “Dad, I don’t feel like you really heard what I was trying to communicate. Can you repeat back to me what you thought I said? I’ll let you know if we have an understanding.” Also, does your wife’s communication style match your father’s style? Look for cues around his preferences and keep asking questions to confirm your message has landed. 2) How do you deal with your grandma and mother who act like their children don’t know their net worth and don’t want to talk about their will before they die? They are very Dutch and modest. It’s 2022. All successful farms and ranches need financial transparency between the generations. Gone are the days of keeping your will secret from your business partners. Have some facilitated conversation with the older generation in the accountant or financial planner’s office. Say “I am just curious, why is it so hard for you to talk about your will? I cannot live with uncertainty, and I wonder if some of the assets can be transferred with a warm hand, not a cold one. I need to understand how much debt is ahead to manage.”

3) How do you deal with a stepparent (female partner ) that refuses to work but still wants all the benefits from the ranch. The ranch has supported this entity and their 100+ head of cows for over 10 years. As a child of ranch owner and trying to get into the operation how do you deal with that stepparent? “We get the behaviour we accept. Your father is letting your stepparent have access to ranch resources without expectation of payment for feed, labour, etc… Figure out the dollar cost and put the data/numbers on the table for open discussion. Ask dad, “What does fairness look like to you?” As a potential business partner, I expect folks to pay for resources that help make them money, and all the financial transactions need to be accounted for, we want clean accounting on this ranch. We cannot change what we cannot measure.”

4) My son ranches with me and owns his own cattle (about half our joint herd) He owns none of the land and only a small portion of the equipment. I’m able now to gift him some of the land for his sweat equity in the ranch. Is this a good idea? Yes, especially as a 72-year-old dad, you have the ability to live off your personal non-ranch wealth and give the opportunity to give certainty of equity to your son who I suspect has been with you for over a decade if he came back to the ranch after his first career. It amazes me how many engineers become ranchers later in life (I met one at this conference).What does money mean to you? Security. Money is a tool if used properly. Something we fight over. Security, freedom, future. Freedom, Opportunity, Simply a tool. Choices.

My parents still have not come together as a couple and agreed on when or what their retirement looks like. We have discussed transition plans, but they keep changing their goals and timeframe. Time for a family meeting to create certainty of timelines.

What bugs you? Micro-management from older generation on how to do even little tasks.

What to do with a ranch that is in a corporation with 7 brothers as the shareholders? Can you give us tips on transitioning and getting so many people on the same page? Hire a coach to facilitate a large group of folks with different visions for the future.

Learning how to communicate effectively with my father and family is important for me.

One of our biggest barriers is a conflicting vision with family. I need to know when my brother is going to make some decisions on his business because it affects ours-he doesn’t invest or pay for anything. We have separate businesses, but he uses all our stuff, lives in our extra house, etc. Gather your data of the cost of doing business with your brother, put the numbers on the table, and get clear about payment and deadlines. Remember, if you continue to let your brother have a “free ride” he is going to continue freeloading.

What do you recommend I put in play so my wife would know what to do with the business if something were to happen to me? She doesn’t deal with any of the legal paperwork and so forth. But I want to make it easy on her if something were to happen. Fill out the Because I love you list and take your spouse to a financial planner and accountant to start developing those relationships before death or disability happens to you.

What are the exact documents needed for the transition of a small ranch from mom and dad to the son and his wife? Does it start with a will? No, a transition plan is a succession plan which is the transfer of labour, management, and ownership while you are alive. A will is part of an estate plan for when you are dead. Both plans need to start with coming to the table to discuss expectations, create certainty of timelines and well-written agreements. Communication is the first step.

A good day on the farm is faith, family, and fresh air.

How do you communicate with in-laws that are not communicators? They are not communicators yet, you are going to model expansive questions, attentive listening, and keep showing them the importance of sharing how they think, feel, and what they want.

What do you do when your father says he’s going to sell out and not hand anything down? He’s the 6th generation and I would be the 7th. Tell dad you are not willing to continue being emotionally blackmailed with his threats. Ask him why he is so angry. Is he hurt, afraid, or frustrated? Is he embarrassed he has so much debt at his age and doesn’t see a way to “save the ranch?”

We came here to hear great speakers and to make the tough talks. Just went through marriage counseling with my wife. Getting therapy is a great tool to help you heal your marriage and learn better communication skills.

I’m here with my 3 siblings and Mom and we are here to learn about transition options and how to work the ranch together going forward. Love for cattle and genetics. NO will…Yikes, you work on and own a multi-million-dollar ranch but have not protected your family from chaos. Get the lawyer’s appointment by Monday.

Big undiscussabull is the daughter in law involvement in transition. Ah yes, Farming’s In-Law Factor is the name of my book written to encourage folks to openly share their vision, dreams, and expectations. Make no assumptions. Everyone’s voice at the decision-making table is important, especially keeping all family members in the loop of ranch goals. Remember a different approach is not wrong, it is just different.

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Elaine Froese, speaker and coach, is happy to be in Montana with ranchers as you read this. Her messages give practical tools and help families find harmony through understanding. Visit elainefroese.com/contact and find out what Elaine and her coaching team can do for your transition success.

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