Dad Won’t Talk

Posted on: May 2nd, 2009 by Richard Cressman

My question for Richard

After finishing college seven years ago, I came home to work on the farm with my father and mother. Two years ago my younger brother joined the business. Both of us have been given shares in the company. My brother and I get along okay. We get the work done without a lot of talking, but the problem is that our father does not want to sit down and talk about day-to-day decisions or even long-term planning. We have tried meetings but dad gets frustrated and says it is a waste of time. Both my brother and I feel we need to do this. We have talked to our mother about this and she is as frustrated with him as we are.


Richard’s Reply

Why some individuals resist talking about business is complex. It sounds like you and your father were able to communicate reasonably well in the early days of you returning to the farm. It could be that your father sees you and your brother getting along quite well and has decided to step back from the decision-making. There is also the possibility that he does not want to see his role diminished so he wants to avoid any discussions that could see you and your brother taking on more control and more decision-making. Your father sounds like a person who prefers to just “get the work done” versus “talking about it”. Try and appreciate that point of view if you can for a moment. The big question is, what can you do to get father to just sit down. Coffee time for some families has been the vehicle to do this. This does not sound like something your family does.

I will share what one family has done successfully. This was a situation much like what you are experiencing where the brothers were getting along quite well, but there was a significant rift between dad and the one of sons. They tried meetings but it did not work well at all. In this case the father took the initiative and each Monday morning he went into town and purchased three take-out breakfasts and brought them back to the barn office. He invited both of sons to sit down for breakfast. There was no agenda — he just wanted to buy the guys breakfast. After a couple of weeks of sitting there eating breakfast and just shooting the breeze they slowly started to talk about issues concerning the farm.

Now the Monday morning breakfast meeting has become something that they will not miss. It took about six months to get it entrenched as a habit and now even when they get into busy planting or harvesting seasons they still take time to eat breakfast together on Monday morning. They also conveniently have a whiteboard on the office wall where they will list out some of the things that need to be done over the next week.

See if you can get your father to sit down with you and your brother over some take-out food, whether in the barn office or your parent’s kitchen or you and your brother may want to take him out for lunch some place. Step two is to not rush the process. Even though he is your father and business partner, you will need to develop a trusting environment where your father is willing to talk about the things that you would like to talk about. This can take time and effort. Be gentle and patient.

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