Sometimes we have to go back to basics to keep healthy change happening on our farms. Lately, in my transition seminars, I have been encouraging frustrated young farmers to write a heartfelt letter of intent to their founding parents. People who are stuck with a large degree of anxiety and overwhelm from not knowing the certainty of the future are caught in what William Bridges has termed “the neutral zone.” You want to get out of neutral and moving towards a more certain future.
Let’s look at five types of letters that might be helpful to your situation
You might want to take parts of each of these types of letters to accomplish your specific goals. Here’s how I have seen them used in my coaching work.
Exploration is the discovery process of seeking out the possibilities of how you might like to address an issue with another party. You are exploring the various options ahead of you. For a young farmer, it might be exploring a new business plan with the founders or folks who hold most of the equity in the operation. In our case, our son used a marketing contract with a hemp processing company to explore the possibility of growing hemp on our certified seed farm. His father agreed to the plan, and we now have three years of hemp growing experience. What opportunities do you want to explore on your farm? What letters of reference or testimonials do you have in your research to prove that it is a workable choice to engage? Writing the letter will help crystalize your commitment to the project and help think things through for your business plan.
The purpose of this letter is to agree on a working contract. I use this letter in my speaker agreements to be clear about timelines, dates, venues, supplies, fees, and expenses. When you want to collaborate on a project with a family member you usually talk about it lots, but how many documents are in place to be clear about roles and responsibilities? Many farm folks I know wish that they would have taken a few more steps to get things in writing so that they could refer to the original goals and expectations. A shareholder’s agreement is a documented letter of collaboration. Do you understand what your shareholder’s agreement says? Do you need to update it?
The Explanation letter is a powerful script to follow when you want to convey your thoughts and intent at a meeting but are not sure that you will be able to say everything quite the right way that you want it to go. I have seen this type of letter used as a powerful tool by a farm widow who was distressed that her adult children were fighting over how the father’s estate had been carried out. She used the letter to read her thoughts at the opening of the family meeting. The children listened intently while their mother conveyed her angst at their bickering. When the tone of reconciliation had been set by the mother’s expectations conveyed in her letter, the children discussed their next steps towards a better family relationship with an understanding of why the estate was executed in a certain manner. People cannot read minds, so letters are a vehicle for building up understanding and starting robust courageous conversations.
Stop texting when you are angry. Put that energy towards collecting your thoughts on paper in a word document that you can craft until it sounds right. I have used this approach when adults want to deliver a strong message of concern to another adult. In one case it was crafted by a husband and wife, then hand delivered to the party that needed to receive the message of concern. This took time and deliberation over carefully chosen words. The power of hand delivery emphasized the openness for ongoing conversation and the seriousness of the need for the conflict to be dealt with. You can make this even more impactful if the letter is handwritten, as long as your writing is easy to read. Sometimes these confrontation letters are hard to receive, particularly if you are like me and would rather just have a face to face conversation. Use the letter as a starting point, and as an invitation to have a face to face conversation.
One of my love languages is verbal affirmation. As a writer, I also love the power of the written word through cards and notes of affirmation. They are nice to see on social media, but those are fleeting comments. You can hold a card or letter of affirmation in your hand, and pull it out again on hard days when you need a word of encouragement. I have seen this powerful letter used by a father-in-law who sought to empower his talented daughter-in-law. He wrote her a letter stating the many reasons why he thought that they should work together on the farm. That letter started a great relationship, and affirmed open, loving, respectful communication between them as a team.
Some younger people have not learned cursive writing, and therefore only print or keyboard their messages. Our local agent who sells driver licenses has taken to teaching young teens how to craft a great signature! I find this hard to believe, but a reflection of how the written word is changing in our culture. Writing a letter to break down the barrier of anxiety about your future on the farm, or the plans for the fairness factor in estate plans is a place to start. You can be clear about your intent not to cause harm, stating your hope to gain clarity of expectations for the future. You can think about the words you carefully choose.
Please consider what type of letter you need to be crafting today. If you have any questions, I’d love for you to write me a letter.