A wise farm friend once told me that the number one rule to being a good listener is to simply – stop talking. The number two rule to being a good listener is to refer back to rule number one. I guess we were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we speak.
As a farm operator, I firmly believe that we need to shout out our positive message as the world’s food producers. We need to let folks know in any way possible about the good things going on down on our farms. But there is no doubt that we also need to listen.
Edgar farm wife, Dawn Caldwell brought this out recently in her message at the AG-ceptional Women conference in Norfolk. She told the crowd that it is important for farm families to communicate with consumers and connect with them in their own world. In other words, listen to them and answer the questions they have, not what we think they want to know.
Our world is full of information, bombarding us at the speed of light. It comes at us too loud in too great of quantity to fully digest. Sometimes I catch myself raising my voice, trying to convey what I want to say to my children or my family. But often, I miss the opportunity to hear what they want to say to me.
As farmers, we are fortunate to have some quiet time to just listen. As a kid, I liked to climb to the top of a big haystack along our manger this time of year and plop down on my back in the hay, looking at the stars in the twilight. I could hear my Dad talking to the milk cows in the barn. I heard the cows munching their supper in the yard below. And our old farm dog breathed heavily in my ear as she made herself comfortable at my side.
During those times when we just listen, it is amazing what we hear. On a still winter night, I can hear my neighbors feeding cattle a mile away. I hear coyotes howling by the creek or turkey gobbling as they settle in for the night.
Our relationships with others are also greatly enhanced when we open our ears and shut our mouths. If we sell corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, cattle or hogs, we need to listen to the folks who are buying our products, to find out what they need from us as producers.
As husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, we need to listen to the experiences of our family members, to learn how best to accomplish our goals and make those relationships stronger. One of my favorite times of each day is when we gather in the evenings together as a family around the supper table, and my children and wife share their experiences and the ups and downs of their day.
Today, our society pays a lot of attention to people who talk loudly. Whether it is a news caster on TV, a promoter in an infomercial, talk show hosts or politicians, the folks who talk loudest often get the most play time.
But, I like the folks who are thoughtfully silent, and who listen to the cares and concerns of others. Although good listeners may not be celebrated in agriculture or society today, I value those who are good listeners very much. Because when we open our ears and close our mouths, there is no telling what we might learn.