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Why should I be a better listener?

Elaine Froese Published on 30 August 2011

What if I showed you a free tool you could implement today that would have the potential to make your farm 21 percent more profitable, without spending a dime?

U.S. farm journalist John Phipps said his business generated more income when he used the tool. The top-shelf farmers in more than six states who were studied by Virginia Tech grad students became 21 percent more profitable with it.



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 percent of effective communication is good listening, yet many farmers don’t hear well; they are hearing impaired and 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 percent more profitable.

I spoke with a frustrated young farmwoman recently, while her children were yelling for attention in the background.


She focused her “mommy ears” on our conversation, since her farm team is not talking and won’t listen to outside resourceful advisers.

When families refuse to talk or listen to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the succeeding generation, it causes hurt, fear and deep frustration.

Why should you be a better listener?
You owe it to yourself and your family to be the best you can be. 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 plugged combine days or through poor price cycles.

When we feel heard, we can become better spouses, happier parents and healthier friends.

I have attended a listening workshop taught by an English fellow, Tom Brown. I am often approached by desperate farmers at conferences who are looking for the magic formula to unlock the key to their wives’ hearts … and I 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, especially during busy, stressful harvest seasons.

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.

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 13-hour-long harvest days, and there is lots of time to listen to one’s self.

I am convinced that great listening in a farm 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 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.

Reserve judgment. 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 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 which 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 truly hope you 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.

When my husband, Wes, asked me to meet him at the barn, I quickly drove for 15 minutes to pick him up.

The trouble was he was at the “old” barn, not the pig barn, and I “should have known” had I been listening earlier to the plan for the day to be at Henry’s field.

No worries. I just got there a few minutes later, but you can be sure I was better at double-checking what message I had just heard.

Bless those women in your life who have “mommy ears” and can hear the amazing things their children are doing.

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 you are actually listening and validating their feelings.

Sign up for a listening workshop, or search the Internet on “how to be a better listener.” Then act!  PD

Elaine Froese listens to the challenges of farm families planning for change. She is a certified Hudson Institute coach, mediator and farm partner in southwestern Manitoba.

Her new action guide is “Do the tough things right … how to prevent communication disasters in family business.”

Froese is a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (CAFA) and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). Visit Find her on YouTube at “farm family coach.”


Elaine Froese