7 Tips on How to Have a Difficult Conversation

We’ve already established that talking about succession is hard. Often we put the pro in procrastination when we have an issue we want to resolve – or raise – with someone. Add into the mix that the person you want to raise the issue with is a father, mother, sibling or partner and it can become a swirling vortex of anxiety and uncertainty.

With multigenerational family farming enterprises, we need to be more proactive in reducing the stresses involved with talking about succession. Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of life and the sooner we recognise this, the easier the conversations will be.

The Family Business Institute in the US calculates that only 30% of such businesses survive into the second generation, only 12% into the third generation and only 3% into the fourth. Worldwide study conducted in the US showed that 50% of farmers did not have an estate plan and 71% of farmers had not identified a successor (tweet this stat). Now, these statistics may not be necessarily indicative of the percentage of Australian farmers in this situation, but it still needs to be taken into account when assessing the current state of succession in regional and rural Australia.

At Fledgling Farmers we’re empowering farmers to start positive conversations around succession and we’re dedicated to provide you with the skills needed to navigate this area successfully.

#1 Brew a Cuppa

All good conversations happen over a cup of Australia’s finest (I’m a fan of Mildura English Breakfast). Once the tea is brewing, the conversation begins.

#3 Have Clarity Around What You Want to Talk About

Write out some dot points about the details of the situation. This will give you the opportunity consider all views. Remember: it’s not (only) what you say, but how you say it.

More importantly, don’t be scripted! Being scripted will prevent you from listening and adapting to what is being said. Trust your opinion and share your vision.

You need to have clarity about what you’re talking about so that you can articulate it in a succinct statement. If you have lack of focus or clarity it will derail the conversation and sabotage your intentions.

#4 Know Your Objective

What do you want to accomplish with the conversation? You’re not going to solve all of your problems in one sitting. Remember you may not be on the same page so don’t be surprised when they have a different perception of the issue.

#5 Don’t Expect a Resolution Straight Away

Andrew Baldock, a Nuffield Scholar I interviewed (you can read that story here) said “It took me 8 years and a Nuffield Scholarship to start the conversation on succession”, so don’t be surprised – or disheartened – if you don’t get very far the first time!

#6 Preserve the Relationship

Maintaining the family unit is paramount to the successful transition of succession in family farming enterprises. Asses how succession affects your family unit, especially all stakeholder whether they’re off-farm or on-farm siblings, retiring parents, or partners.

Farms where the family members are key stakeholders will be more willing to maintain the family unit. Remember, often you – and those you’re speaking with – will bring a deep understanding of each other, the workings of the farm and the history of the farm to the discussion, and a desire to maintain – above all else – the family and family values.

#7 Choose the Right Place

Well, this goes without saying. Ensure you don't spring the conversation on them at a moment when they can't devote their full attention to it! 

#8 Have a Follow up Conversation

Make sure that you set a date to revisit the conversation again. This way both parties can go away and give consideration to the other's position.