What if I showed you a free tool that you could implement today that would have the potential to make your farm 21 per cent more profitable, without spending a dime?
This tool was used by U. S. farm journalist John Phipps and he said his business generated more income as a result. It was also used by the top-shelf farmers in over six states who were studied by Virginia Tech Grad students.
What is it? It’s listening. When I first heard Phipps confess that even as a gifted TV host and broadcaster he had signed himself up for a better listening course, I was all ears. Eighty per cent of effective communication is good listening, yet many farmers don’t hear well or are hearing impaired but too stubborn to get hearing aids. Some folks just choose to block out the insights or opinions of other farm team members.
The farm families who meet regularly to communicate their vision, goals and business strategies are the ones who are 21 per cent more profitable.
BE A BETTER SPOUSE, PARENT, FRIEND
Listening is a skill that can be developed and improved. If we are well-listened-to we feel respected, and have a positive emotional bank account that will help us be more resilient on the flat-tire days or through poor price cycles. When we feel heard we can become better spouses, happier parents and healthier friends. When families refuse to talk or listen to the hopes dreams and aspirations of the succeeding generation it causes hurt, fear and deep frustration
I have attended a listening workshop taught by an English fellow, Tom Brown, who was convinced Canada needed his expertise. I am often approached by desperate farmers at conferences who are looking for the magic formula to unlock the key to their wife’s hearts; I often suggest they really listen to her side of the marriage story.
Spending time with the electronics off, and your ears on, tuned in to the needs of your spouse is likely the best gift you can give the mums in your life this month. Marriage time requires focused attention, listening to each other for at least one hour a week.
Start by asking, “What’s the most important thing for us to talk about?” Then zip your lip and wait for the outpouring of words that hold dreams, desires and pent-up feelings.
ASK LEADING QUESTIONS
Open ended questions that don’t require a simple yes or no answer will start the tsunami of ideas flowing your way. If your son is an idea-style communicator, he needs lots of uninterrupted time to explain his great production idea to you, and talk about the potential to diversify your farm operation. Don’t interrupt. Let him go on all the tangents he needs to and look him in the eye. Nod in affirmation that you are truly listening, and try not to cross your arms in disgust or with impatience. Do you actually remember what it felt like to have dreams, be invincible and feel like nothing could stop you?
Listen to your inner thoughts. Some folks have not showed up to listen to themselves for a very long time. I am always amazed at the number of phone calls I get during combining season, when butts are parked on the seats for long harvest days and there’s time to listen to your own thoughts.
I am convinced that great listening in a farm family and business team creates a haven to work in a healthy way, and reduces stress. When I happen to have a time of tears my hubby will ask “Is this about me?” and he listens very carefully to my answer.
“No.” Then he lets me have a good cry, because he knows that crying for me is a good outlet for pent-up emotion, and tears can be healing. He asks directly, and then listens. I don’t cry often, but I appreciate that someone is listening to my feelings.
I also listen to the conversations my hubby has on the cell phone to see the tone of the day, and some of the stresses that he is dealing with. His chats with other farmers are very telling to me, and all I have to do is pay attention with my ears. I am not encouraging eavesdropping on private phone conversations, but I do think that being very intentional about the conversations you hear around you and reserving judgment will help you resolve conflict in your family.
Listening to both sides of the story, coming with a sense of curiosity, and checking to make sure that you heard the message correctly are all great conflict resolution skills. Gossip is not a great listening skill. It kills families when the gossip triangle is fed by many listeners only too happy to sit and seethe with new information that colours their thinking of other farm team members. Cut the gossip. Go directly to the source, that is the person who has offended you, and deal directly with the issue at hand. Be soft on the person and hard on the problem. Treat their conversation with respect as you listen without interruption, and give them your ear and attention.
I grew up with a farmer father whose left ear was basically deaf, so we always positioned ourselves on Dad’s good side when we needed him to be in the loop. His hearing aids added much more enjoyment to his relationships, and he paid a good dollar to have aids that really worked well.
During this seeding month I truly hope that your will work hard to make your farm team more profitable by working on being a better listener. We all goof up and make mistakes in communication, but hopefully we can laugh about it later, and not cringe at the thought of having to be together.
Bless those women in your life who have “mommy ears” and can hear the amazing things their children are up to. Choose to honour your family members with your rapt attention as they share themselves verbally with you. Be patient with the silent ones who have not yet found enough trust to know that you are actually listening and validating their feelings.
Elaine Froese listens to the challenges of farm families planning for change. She is a member of CAFA, the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (see www.cafanet.com) and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. See her at www.agvisiontv.comor www.elainefroese.com.