To communicate better on the ranch, take the time to listen

March 3, 2016

4 Min Read
To communicate better on the ranch, take the time to listen

For many ranching operations, the cattle business is truly a family affair. The average age of the U.S. rancher is creeping up on 60 years old. That often means the younger generation has moved back to the ranch, and that generation has started their own families. If the rancher’s parents and grandparents are still alive, there are often 4-5 living generations participating in the business.

While working alongside family is a benefit of ranching, it can also be a curse depending on how each generation works together, coupled with other influences such as off-farm children or spouses also participating in the ranch business.

What it often boils down to is communication. Frustration can quickly grow into anger and resentment if one member of the operation doesn’t feel like his thoughts are being heard.

A good example of this happened my first year home on the ranch. When I graduated from college in 2009, I thought I was pretty smart, and I came home with plenty of ideas for my dad to consider implementing in our seedstock business. Of course, my dad had his own ideas and own management methods, based off of decades of experience and probably plenty of trial and error, as well.

Many of his practices were probably implemented after hard-fought battles with his own dad in deciding how to run things, and needless to say, he was hardly excited to entertain some of my “university” ideas. When he quickly dismissed my thoughts, I felt marginalized and unappreciated.

Of course, looking back on it now, I realize that I learned more in my first few years back on the ranch when I actually had skin in the game, then I did in my great animal science classes at school. Because in reality, practice is a great teacher when your own money is on the table to be won or lost, and suddenly, I wasn’t so willing to gamble with new ideas that may or may not have worked in our operation.

The moral of that story isn’t how much I did or didn’t know at 22 years of age, but instead, how the communication gap created some tension for a period of time until we better learned to communicate with one another.

In a recent column for South Dakota State University’s iGrow, B. Lynn Gordon, SDSU Extension agricultural leadership specialist, addresses the issue of communication in agriculture.

Gordon writes, “Lack of communication can be costly in agriculture. It could result in miscommunication which may lead to mistakes or the result of a procedure being repeated because it was not done correctly the first time. Good communication can help a business be successful. Clear, concise communication — from top to bottom, across all employees and throughout an organization — can result in outcomes and achievements only a team which is communicating effectively will be able to achieve.”

She says that listening is just as important as the ability to communicate.

She explains, “The ability for a person to listen, listen actively, and then take what they heard and communicate it back to the employees, an organization, etc., is essential. A good communicator is one that is not necessarily the first one to speak up, but one who takes the time to listen to the issue/person before they speak their comments. 

“The end result of being a good listener is preventing those situations that happen where there may be confusion due to miscommunication, or even hurt feelings or conflict because the person didn’t feel like their issue or them were really heard by those they were trying to communicate with. Communicating with others is important, but listening actively brings a new dimension to a person’s ability to build and practice their leadership skills and a stronger relationship among people.”

This may seem like basic advice, but it’s a good reminder that if we are to find success (and happiness) in our family cattle businesses, then we first need to remember the basic principle of communicating thoroughly and listening well to one another. Keep this in mind at your next ranch meeting or even in the simple texts or quick phone calls you make to your family members and employees in your business.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.


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