Coping with Emotions in a Turbulent Economy

Published on: 16:18PM Aug 06, 2010

By Dr. Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies, LLC
As I have interacted with clients and workshop participants, many continue to experience and observe strong emotional and behavioral responses to the current economic conditions. (I often refer to this as “turbulence x turbulence” to describe the turmoil both in agriculture and the general economy.)
Let me share several observations, many from earlier articles, that have come to the fore in these interactions. We’ll look at:
a) the current situation
b) human emotional and behavioral responses
c) suggestions for moving forward
Turbulence: The Current Situation
·         The financial hole is deeper than most recognized. For most dairy and livestock, the reality of the financial setback that has occurred is only now being fully realized. Combined with the weaker-than-expected recovery in the farm and general economy, it will take much longer than expected to recover the recent losses.
·         Many managers are even more focused on controlling costs than they were previously. Their focus is on improving efficiency, productivity and cost control. Capital costs are being delayed whenever feasible by most managers, especially those in high debt businesses.
·         The situation outlined in the first two bullets means many agribusinesses are very challenged to meet this year’s expectations for sales and for collection of accounts receivable.
Turbulence: Emotional and Behavioral Responses
It seems like this year should be easier to stomach than last as we are at least recovering. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Many had very high, perhaps unrealistic, expectations for the recovery. Not meeting those expectations can result in viewing change as loss, frustration, depression and even anger. 
Consider the following:
·         Anger and other reactions are both emotions and behaviors.
·         As emotions, they are very personal and primarily impact one’s self. We will continue to experience the emotion until something changes in the situation that is causing the emotion or anger.
·         Introspection concerning the cause of our emotional reactions is critical to fully understand how we are feeling and to enable us to make the changes necessary to move forward.
·         As a behavior, emotions including anger have external impacts that we need to keep in mind to avoid behaviors that we will later regret.
·         When we experience anger as an emotion, we have a choice for our behavioral response: We can react and behave instinctively or we can think and behave thoughtfully.
·         The choice to think is key to identifying the real issues and focusing on our thoughtful behavior toward whatever is causing the anger or other emotion.
Turbulence: Suggestions for Moving Forward
·         Each of us needs to take time to be introspective about our feelings. Understanding why we feel as we do does not prevent those feelings, but it does provide understanding and can lead to thoughtful behavioral responses that move us forward.
·         In assisting others, the key is listening. We can all become better listeners. Start by training yourself to allow a second or two to elapse before responding. Also, when you feel the other person has more to say, try saying, “Tell me more.”
·         Identify one production and one business process on your farm or other business that can be improved. Prioritize to have the time to make the improvements.
A Final Word
These are trying times! Introspection to understand our feelings and excellent, empathic communication to assist others can be powerful. Benjamin Franklin's statement, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” is not literally true in this situation, but certainly working together is crucial in these trying times.
Dr. Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. His insights come from 35 years of working with farm businesses. He also was an award-winning teacher in the fifth-ranked undergraduate business program in the country. Bob lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact him at 651 647-0495 or[email protected]. Visit his Web site at or