Small Bites – Methods of Communication – Part 1 

Authored by Coaches Abby Sadauckas and Polly Shyka

Small Bites are short, informational articles with practical ideas about stress reduction, improved communication, and farmer well-being. They are written by coaches from UMaine Extension’s Farm Coaching team. Farm Coaches are available at no cost to work remotely with farmers and farm families.

There are a plethora of ways that you can “hear” from family, staff and customers. Right now is a great time to consider how, when, and through what channels you want to hear from each of your farm’s different constituent groups. Thinking about methods of communication might help you reinforce or clarify some boundaries. During the current conditions, it is a great time to reset boundaries and expectations to both preserve your sanity and retain organization.

Letting each person or customer group know how and when you receive and reply to messages can provide clarity and ease during the busy season.

Here are some of the channels that you can choose from:

Text Messaging
Pros – It’s quick! Texts are real-time responses with a written record of the decisions made.
Cons – It may be easy to overlook communication if your “channels” of family, staff and customers mingle in your texts. Short snippets of text may not convey your full meaning or may lead to miscommunication.

Pros – Can be great to document a conversation, particularly with customers. It may be helpful to set-up an “out of office reply” or footer in your email that explains your office hours and / or response time. You can also set-up responses to frequently asked questions in your drafts to use and re-use when answering common inquiries.

Cons – It may take more commitment to designate a “block” of time to read and respond to emails. Some users write emails like text messages. Sentence fragments and other short-hand may lead to a misunderstanding.

Pros – Best used for time-sensitive matters that can hold up decision-making. Also important if you need to hear a person’s tone in a sensitive conversation (with a customer regarding pricing or an issue about a returned product, for example.)

Cons –  It can be hard to dispense with pleasantries and get down to business. Also there is no written record, like email and texting, so taking notes is important if important decisions are made.

Social Media & Direct Messages (DMs)
Pros – These provide additional access for customers to connect and can offer ways for customers to “see” the farm and for you to share day-to-day activities.

Cons –  Managing social media communication in each platform can be both cumbersome and time-consuming. Consider using a social media management tool to streamline the process or delegating some of the responsibility to others at the farm.

With information flowing in and out of all of these channels, making sure the right people and records get updated is really where it all comes together. How do you record orders that come in via text or social media? What are the systems that support all of this communication? Capture the information into a good system that is easily accessed by your whole team. Stay tuned for the next Small Bites to read more about systems to support communication.

Reach out to the coaches to make a communications plan that incorporates all of the above!