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Effective communication can reduce stress

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 1, 2020

“When we have good communication, we are typically less stressed, meaning effective communication can be a way to reduce stress,” states Megan Roberts, an educator in ag business management during the American Agri-Women’s Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture webinar. 

            She goes on to explain her conversation is loosely framed around farm and ranch transitions since the particular situation creates some of the biggest communication breakdowns on family operations.

Farm vs. family vs. business 

            The first topic of Roberts’ discussion is the difference between farm or ranch communication, family communication and business communication and why communication on a farm or ranch is more difficult than other situations.

            “Family and business systems are different,” Roberts states. “One of the real blessings of being a farm or ranch family is we live where we work, we are our own boss, our family is there with us and oftentimes they work with us as well. However, at the same time, the curse of being a farm or ranch family is we live where we work, we are our own boss, our family is there with us and oftentimes they work with us as well.”

            Roberts notes most other businesses don’t face this challenge, so when it comes to family farm and ranch operations, family, farm and business communication overlaps in ways that can be really challenging to separate.

            Another difference between family and business communication, according to Roberts, is the way we orient ourselves in the particular system. 

            She explains families are typically inward looking, avoids risks, focuses on emotion and seeks stability. She also notes family value cannot be measured by dollars.

            “We can’t put a dollar sign on how much we love our children or our parents,” she says. 

            On the other hand, Roberts explains businesses are usually outward looking, assumes risk, focuses on rationality, seeks change and makes conscious decisions.

            “While family cannot, business can be measured by dollars and cents,” she points out. “I think sometimes folks interpret the dollar amount on a family farm or ranch as the measurement of family value and then we see the two systems colliding in a way that creates communication breakdowns.” 

Communication styles

            Another factor that can cause communication breakdowns is difference in communication styles, according to Roberts. However, she stresses there are no right or wrong communication styles. 

            “There are four different communication styles – action oriented, idea oriented, process oriented and people oriented,” Roberts explains. “I am personally an action-oriented communicator, which means I like to get to the point as soon as possible and I struggle with chit-chat.”

            She continues, “I come from a family that is also very action-oriented but I married into a family that is not. My husband is process oriented, and I had to learn how to change how I was communicating with these different people.” 

            “The reason this is important is because if we recognize how to make comments and suggestions to others with different communication styles than our own, we can avoid communication breakdowns,” she adds. 

Generational differences

            “I always caution this discussion by saying we can’t over-generalize anyone,” says Roberts. “I am not trying to pigeon-hole people into their generations, but I do think there is something to be learned by the differences in communication styles across generations.” 

            Roberts explains there are six major generations – the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z and the generation after Z, which hasn’t been named yet.

            “The Silent Generation was born between 1925 and 1945,” says Roberts. “They are most closely associated with the Great Depression, WWII and the Korean War. They value hard work, sacrifice, loyalty, respect and conformity.” 

            Roberts explains some of the life events and values of the Silent Generation may come through when communicating on a family farm or ranch operation.

            “For example, if they grew up in the Great Depression they may have a thrifty approach to the way they treat their money or their idea of transferring the operation to the next generation,” Roberts says.

            Roberts explains Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, women’s liberation and the Vietnam War.

            “The values of the Baby Boomers are more optimistic, with a focus on personal fulfillment. They pride themselves on work ethic and want to make their own way in the world,” says Roberts. 

            She continues, “Some Baby Boomers might have farmed and ranched through the 1980s Farm Crisis. They got their operation through a really serious economic depression in agriculture, so they believe they earned their operation and they don’t want to let it go.” 

            Roberts goes on to explain Generation X. 

            “This generation was born between 1965 and 1980. Some of their life events include Watergate, the energy crisis, the emergence of MTV and latch key situations,” says Roberts. “Some of their values include seeking stability, self reliance, embracing diversity and they are often more cynical and pragmatic.” 

            “Generation Y are also know as Millennials,” Roberts continues.  “This generation grew up with technology and saw some major tragedies, including Columbine, Oklahoma City and 9/11.”

            “Millennials are known to be more multicultural, globally oriented and highly educated,” she adds. 

            Roberts notes it is important to remember these differences when participating in intergenerational communication in order to prevent communication breakdowns.

Other factors influencing communication

            On top of communication styles and generational differences, Roberts notes there are a few other factors influencing communication. These include gender differences, personality styles and leadership styles. 

            “Each of us has a preferred way to deal with and approach our lives and our work. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate and use other preferences,” Roberts says.

Improving communication

            Because there are so many factors influencing effective communication, Roberts suggests a few tricks to improving communication on a family farm or ranch operation.

            “First, families need to partake in communication when it is appropriate,” she says. “This might be a business meeting in a neutral setting away from the family home. Meeting around the kitchen table, especially during a meal or holiday, is just a recipe for a communication breakdown disaster.” 

            Some other ways Roberts recommends improving communication is listening to concerns, allowing adequate time for responses, taking notes, providing minutes of the meetings and deciding who needs to be included. 

            “One of the final things in effective communication is not only the way we convey information, but the way we receive it as well,” states Roberts. “We need to listen and understand. Oftentimes we don’t always listen to gain the full meaning of what is being said. Instead, we listen while we are thinking about the next thing we want to say.” 

            According to Roberts some other characteristics to enhance communication are having mutual trust, respecting everyone’s viewpoints, keeping an open mind while listening and remaining ethical and fair. 

            Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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