How can a dairy farm family actually work together each day, but really never communicate with each other? It’s actually easy to do. 

Juggling the demands of a dairy farm, family and personal needs can become quite a challenge. People get so wrapped up in their own problems that they fail to communicate effectively with others. The result is that everyone is talking to each other, but no one is really listening. Then, misunderstandings quickly surface, causing conflict within the family and potential problems with your dairy’s profitability.  

Avoid these barriers

Some people are simply reluctant to share their inner feelings and emotions with others. They want to keep their thoughts private. In other words, “No one needs to know how I actually feel about this. By sharing my true feelings, I might have to admit I was wrong.” To some individuals, saying “I’m sorry” is a sign of personal weakness. Their strategy is to appear being strong by never revealing their true feelings with others.

Meanwhile, other individuals try to gain control by dominating the conversation. They never give the other person a chance to talk. That way, things always work out as they want. They spend little time listening since they are so busy or wrapped up in their own needs and self-interests. 

There is a definite lack of respect and trust in some family and employee relationships. Without trust and respect, it is extremely difficult to talk through problems or conflicts in a positive and productive manner.  

Take time off

A lack of time off and vacation time for family members can be another pitfall. Family members become too closely tied to the working demands and stress of the dairy. With no opportunity to relax, and little personal time for spouse and family, this quickly adds to the stress and endless pressure of a dairy farm. This can also lead to martial problems.

Failure to keep personal lifestyles between family members out of the dairy operation itself is another pitfall to avoid. The trick is to manage the dairy farm as a business and keep any personal differences out of the family operation.

Meet regularly

I strongly encourage farm families to implement routine family business meetings to prevent these communication breakdowns and to develop a more effective communication process. 

Try these ideas to get you started, or back on track.

  • Set a specific date, like first Monday of each month, so that family meetings are held on a regular basis.
  • Conduct the meeting on neutral or friendly territory.
  • Establish an agenda so that each meeting has a specific purpose.Identify the needed reports to be presented. Provide time for open discussion of ideas. Allow suggestions to be shared. 
  • Establish ground rules ahead of time. (Who chairs each session? How are ideas to be agreed upon or voted on? How are any business disagreements to be resolved?)
  • Conduct each meeting on a business-like basis. Develop an attitude of professionalism and use proper business etiquette.
  • Keep a record of all business decisions discussed and agreed upon. 
  • Set aside one meeting a year to establish both family and business goals for the next year. Review goals from the previous year. Remember, both farm and family priorities need to be identified. These priorities create a vision for working together to achieve the common goals set forth by their dairy farming operation. Does your family have a mission statement?

Implementing family business meetings on a regular basis improves family communications and reinforces the feeling that the family farm is a team effort among all family members. It also eliminates any surprises among family members by keeping everyone involved and better informed and helps to keep the “personal family biases” out of the business management of your dairy farming operation.

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the University of Nebraska.