Silence is not Golden

"I don't want to make dad mad." "I hope we can all get along." "I don't want to appear greedy." "My brothers and sisters won't be a problem, right?" "I hope we can continue this farm." "I wonder if there is a will." "I wonder what's in the will." "I wonder if the kids can handle the farm." "I wonder if my spouse will remarry." I wonder what would happen if there is a divorce."  "I wonder….." 

These and many others are the concerns that run around and around in our heads, especially if we are in family business. And there is no resolution unless there is a conversation, followed by action. Yet, far too often, initiating those discussions are pushed to the "maybe later" pile because they are laden with emotions. And besides that, we don't have time. We have a lot of work to do.

This conundrum of not addressing these important issues is why I am so adamant you operate your family farm or ranch as a business. You communicate, assess, assure and insure a desired and discussed result. That's how you truly honor the family.

Here are some ideas to get the conversation ball rolling.

1. Bring the issues to the forefront when a similar problem or issue has happened to another family in your area. The types of problems might be: a death with no will or buy-sell agreement leading to expensive legal and court fees; heirs or siblings not getting along or speaking to each other; the business not continuing under the ownership or leadership of those best for the business; the business put on the auction block.

2. Bring the need to the forefront after you've heard speakers and advisors educate and inform of better options. I often suggest that after some (or all) family members have heard me present on family business that they share, "I heard this speaker talk about transitioning the farm business and she told some pretty scary stories. I sure don't want those problems to be ours. She had a lot of solutions that I think would help us."  Then schedule a time for a meeting with the only agenda item as "work on the succession and transition of the business."

3. Have choices of really good advisors for all so the asset owners and other family members do not have the excuse of not knowing where to start. (I talked about finding good advisors in the January video blog.)

4. Be honest with your emotions. If you have concerns, fears and worries, it's time to create a space/location/time to bring them up to the asset owners. For example, Sunday afternoon visit…"Mom and Dad you've worked so hard to raise this family and build this business. And I have to tell you, I'm scared. (Spouse's name) and I have not been sleeping at night. We so much want to honor what you have done, and we also want to know your intent for the continuation or sale of this business after you're gone. We understand this is your farm/business and we know you deserve to and need to take care of each other first. But we also want you to know that we've worked here a long time and we're trying to provide security for our kids, too. More than anything we want to continue the legacy of this farm that means so much to all of us. So, I need to ask, would you please share with us your plans?" Then be quiet and give eye-contact (not staring.) Don't interrupt. Don't fill in the silence. 

Remember, if no information is shared, if no conversation is held, then you must answer…"How many more years of blood, sweat and tears am I going to put into a business with the risk of having "nothing" at the end….or having "something" that is unworkable for continuing the business or my involvement in the business?"

So, for those of you who are asset owners putting off the important conversation and work of transitioning the business I have a message for you.  If you love your family, you will have these conversations, seek sound advice, clarify and document the details and do the legal work to get things done - now.

Jolene Brown is a farmer, professional speaker, author and champion for the family owned business. She's from West Branch, Iowa, USA, and travels worldwide sharing leading-edge best practices that have the power to increase productivity, profitability and peace of mind. Her passion combined with her fun-filled spirit and valuable information brings humor, hope and helpful ideas to the people of agriculture. For more information and to check out her speaking availability, contact her at,

Full Rights Consent.  Jolene Brown LLC, West Branch, Iowa, USA, maintains full rights to utilize the content and/or format of all materials submitted by her for the website in any future speaking, writing, audio, video or electronic format.

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