The Human Side of Farming

There is an often overlooked aspect to farming that can really make or break a farm. When we think about our work as farmers we often first think of the crops or livestock, what our soil is doing, how much rainfall we have received and what our harvest will look like. All very important aspects of a farm, but not always the most important. Another aspect of farming has come a little more to light in recent years due to the push for good succession plans. This aspect is human resources. Not only can knowing how to work with people benefit our farms when it comes to succession planning, but it can be crucial in making the day to day operations on the farm run smoothly.

If we really think about how many people we interact with while going through the motions of the activities on our farms, the numbers add up a lot faster than most of us would assume. Not only do we need to be able to work with the family members and hired hands that directly contribute to the efforts of the farming business, but we may need to collaborate with our parents or our in-laws. We also are often interacting with salesmen, veterinarians, land owners, neighbours, truckers, customers, seed cleaning plants, agronomists, and the list goes on. For what is considered to be more of a solitary profession, agriculture actually has us interacting with many different types of people on a regular basis. I think that we often underestimate how much of an impact these other people have on our businesses and on the contentment that we can find within our agricultural community. So how do we learn to navigate these occasionally turbulent waters?

Most of us learned from our parents and teachers how to work with others. In fact we often see people with a limited lens and can struggle when it comes to understanding why the people around us react to different situations in the way that they do, as we have only ever been given our current lens to view others through. Sometimes the people that we are interacting with can seem completely foreign and we will misunderstand their intentions which leads to communication difficulties and hard feelings. I think that this is made even more apparent with succession planning, as suddenly we are in this place of making some very hard decisions, both as the predecessor and the successor. Different goals and priorities when making these large scale decisions can really emphasize the difference in personalities. Maybe though these misunderstandings are just that, and something that can be remedied by learning more about different personality types. By widening the lens that we view people through we are able to not only understand where the people that we are working with are coming from, but use their strengths to our farm’s advantage. We can also learn to complement each other’s personality types by understanding theirs and our own weaknesses.

I know that all of this sounds great in that hypothetical scenario where everyone gets along just right, but let’s put it into perspective. There are many different personality tests available online, most of them free. The one that I will use for this scenario is the DISC test. With this test there are four different personality types, with people usually falling under one primary one and having characteristics under the others. The D stands for Dominance, these people are the ones that place an emphasis on accomplishing results, they are very confident and their primary focus is the bottom line. The I is for Influence, these are the people that put the emphasis on people. Their focus is primarily on relationships, they are good at persuading others and are very open personalities. The S is for Steadiness, these are the dependable types, their emphasis is on cooperation and they are usually very sincere. And the C is for Conscientiousness, these are the people that place a high emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise and competency.

Now with all of that being said, my husband is quite a high D. In order to communicate well with a D personality it is best to be direct and to the point, this is also how he naturally communicates with others. I jump between most of the types, but am typically a high I, to communicate with me you are best sharing your experiences, telling me stories and giving me a chance to talk things out. I want to hear all of the positive things and I want to fully understand the reasons behind what I am doing. Now my husband and I have spent a lot of time working cattle together. When I first started working with him it was a huge learning curve, I couldn’t understand why a gate needed to be closed and why he would be yelling at me to close it with such urgency, or why he would be telling me to stand in front of a heifer bound to get through said gate. These cattle handling sessions would often end with me in tears and him frustrated at my lack of understanding the need for such urgency. I am very thankful to say that we have come a long way since those early days. My husband will now patiently explain the plan of animal movement before we get into a situation that requires quick orders and I have learned to not take the need for quick orders as a personal attack. By understanding each other’s personality traits we are able to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and it saves a lot of hurt feelings and arguments down the road. Think back to the last time that you felt offended by someone that you were working with, did they intend to offend you, or could it be that it was more an issue of conflicting personality styles? When we look at disagreements through this lens it makes it possible to work through issues with a lot less hard feelings.

Obviously this is a huge topic, but why not take that first step in discovering your own personality type and work towards discovering the personalities of those that you interact with on a regular basis? The DISC test is a fairly simple and quick test to take. With only four personality types it is fairly easy to understand. A more in depth test that I have found to be incredibly accurate is the Meyers-Briggs test, which can be completed for free on a website called 16 Personalities. These are the two that I have heard the most about and have completed myself, but there is a myriad of different tests out there.

Understanding personality styles might not keep your husband or wife from leaving the gate open, or from tracking mud across the kitchen floor, but at least you will understand why they did it!

Amber Kenyon
Gateway Research Organization