NDSU Extension - Sargent County

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Breaking the Ice to Start a Difficult Conversation

breaking the ice

There are lots of times when communication about a difficult problem, or an uncomfortable situation or a sensitive topic needs to happen.  But oh my goodness, it’s not easy to get started! 

Conversations about change, death, and finances are ones that people often struggle with. 

To recognize that starting the conversation is an important thing to do is the first step.  When to start that important conversation is another question.  The two choices are:

-  start the conversation when it is not urgent to do so
-  wait (or procrastinate) until it becomes an urgent conversation

It is pretty easy to put off anything we perceive as being “not urgent.”  However, the quality of the conversation can be compromised when we have limited time or are under other pressure.  Decisions made in those circumstances can also be lower quality. 

One strategy is to start the conversation by freely talking about non-threatening aspects of the topic.  This makes it easy for everyone to participate.  As a result, you will have created awareness and a shared pool of information.

When it is a conversation that will ultimately focus on what’s going to happen to the farm or business “when that time comes,” and how the farm or business will transfer or transition to the next generation or another successor, this could include

                -  happy, fun memories of life on the farm or ranch
                -  what the business means to each person
                -  the legacy created by hard work and sacrifice
                -  hopes and dreams for the future

Some families make their own “Family Trivia” game to help bring out the memories.

After creating awareness and a shared pool of information, proceed with sensitivity:

                -  Ask “what if” questions.
                -  Use “I’ve been thinking” statements
                -  Ask “What do you want” questions
                -  Look for natural opportunities to start a conversation, such as, “The neighbor’s land may be coming up for
                   rent.  We should talk about our future and if more land would work into our long-range plans.”
                -  Use someone else’s story to get started.  “Our neighbor was telling me that he and his family have been
                   working on a succession plan.  Have you given any thought to how you’d like to pass along your farm?”  “I
                   hear that the neighbor’s kids are really fighting it out to split up their parents’ land.  I guess they didn’t have a
                   succession plan in place before their parents died.”

For more information about effective communication, problem solving and conflict management, contact the Extension Office.

Adapted from:  Design Your Succession Plan, NDSU Extension, Module 4: Family Meetings and Conversations.

Photo Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_The_Ice_On_The_Hudson_River_With_United_States_Coast_Guard_Cutter_Hawser_2.jpg  (downloaded 2-22-16)

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