‘What do you want’ can be difficult question to answer

It’ a simple enough question and one that gets asked many times a day. “What do you want” is usually addressed to another person or group of people in an attempt to try to find out what it is they desire or need.

Young children have it mastered. They have no difficulty asking for what they want. They obviously don’t always get the results they are looking for, but lack of success doesn’t discourage them from asking. They know what they want and they’re not afraid to ask for it.

Somewhere along the path to adulthood, being able to ask for what we want becomes less straightforward. Does it need to be that way?

I suspect that for many of us, if we were asked if we knew what we wanted, the answer would be “yes.”

That might be the easy part, though, because it may actually be quite difficult to describe. Or maybe it is difficult to talk about for a number of reasons — fear of ridicule, of causing conflict, fear of appearing selfish or fear of hurting someone’s feelings, to name a few.

Here’s another aspect. What if what we think we want turns out to not be the case? What about situations in which we realize that there were other options that we hadn’t thought about.

For example, I wonder how many farm families have children who would either have been entering or returning to college or university this autumn, and due to COVID-19, have remained at home to help with harvest. I suspect more than a few.

I read accounts of people, who are farming today, talking about their desire (want) through high school to get away. They decide that they don’t want any future involvement on the farm. However, through life circumstances they end up back at the farm and realize that it was what they really wanted.

Dr. Suess is credited with the saying that sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple. We (farm families and advisers) tend to ask really difficult questions to understand the issues involved in farm transition and in doing so, the point about what is really important often gets missed.

Some of you may have heard the joke about a couple travelling in the countryside and ending up lost. They come across a local person on the side of the road and stop to ask for directions. The local person thinks about it, starts to answer, stops and thinks some more, starts to answer, then stops again. This goes on for a couple of minutes until the local person says, “you know, you can’t get there from here”.

This is a light-hearted way of saying that we can know what the challenge is, but we don’t know what the solution is. In other words, we can see where we need to go, but we don’t know how to get there. We know what needs to get done but we don’t know how to go about it.

So, what if we took a different approach where we ask simple questions, such as, “what do you want?”

A colleague and I were talking with a farmer recently about transitioning the farm. The farmer’s situation has some challenges, commonly found when multiple generations are trying to figure out how to transition ownership and management. The challenges appeared to the farmer and his family to be quite daunting.

We came to the point where we collectively decided that it didn’t make sense to waste time and energy doing something that was not going to give the farmer and his family what they needed to help them get through the challenges. We decided the best approach forward was to ask each person involved in the process a simple question: what do they want?

We are well into that process with the family. It is going to provide a common base of information that will be used to gain clarity into what people are thinking, what they want, and how to fairly deal with the information in the transition.

It helps if the answers to the “what do you want” question align with everyone’s vision for the future.

There are some cautions. I think anyone using this approach needs to be prepared to hear the answers. But without the question in the first place and without knowing the answers, how does a family know what it is they are dealing with?

Terry Betker, PAg, is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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