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April 1, 2020

Stressed Out? Having a Confidant Might Help

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

As your farm’s leader, what you say and how you act sets the tone for your operation. That’s especially true in stressful times, says Bob Milligan, a Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC and professor emeritus, Cornell University.

The issue is not to allow your own concerns and frustrations “infect” your farm business culture. “Infecting your farm culture will only add stress to you and your workforce,” Milligan says. “Your required behaviors must, therefore, be very different from your current emotions.

“You must not react instinctively. You must have thoughtful responses to these emotions so that your behaviors are the best for your workforce and your farm,” he says.

That doesn’t mean you have to paint a false picture of the situation. It simply means that you communicate honestly and directly with your family and your workforce.

“You are responsible for rallying people to a better future by being encouraging, hopeful and providing direction,” Milligan says. “I am not suggesting that you be unemotional. It is certainly OK and likely helpful to share that you are stressed, even scared, but help your staff to move beyond your and their emotions.”

He says the importance of constant, consistent communication cannot be overemphasized: “The communication needs to be empathic, hopeful and send clear messages.”

If you have a large crew working round-the-clock shifts, consider using phone texts to communicate daily. If you are part of a multiple-owner team, consider rotating who sends the texts so employees see you are sending a unified message.  

One of the keys is taking care of yourself first. “Recognizing and dealing with the emotions of disappointment, frustration, even fear is difficult. First recognize that these emotions are real and should not be ignored; you certainly should not feel guilty about or be afraid of emotions. They are real; they are you,” says Milligan. For more on this, click here.   

But you can’t do this alone. “You need to have someone or several someones with whom you can openly share and discuss your feelings,” Milligan says. “This person may be a family member or friend, but that is not always the best choice.  I suggest a confidant.”

A confidant is someone you trust who you can discuss your true emotions, brainstorm ideas and find solutions.  A confidant can also help you think the root causes of your emotions and why you are feeling the way you are.

“Whoever you choose, make certain that your discussions are proactive and constructive,” says Milligan. “The discussions should focus on understanding and solutions, not on complaining.  ‘Pity parties’ rarely release stress or provide solutions,” he says.

You can find more on dealing with stress and leadership strategies at