Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
Communication is becoming more and more challenging with the influx of social media in our society. Face-to-face discussions with people we work with on our farms and ranches, in our organizations or even our families continue to decline. The use of email surged and now it’s considered old school and communication in the social media world is by texting and many other new aspects keep entering our society every day.
Leadership theorists considered the ability to communicate verbally as a measure to determine if a person was a leader. That is more difficult nowadays, when the opportunities to hear someone in a leadership role to actually speak become less common. Yet, communication is still really the core of successful business relationships. Whether you are a farmer, rancher, agricultural businessman or member of an agricultural organization, at some point in time you have likely said, “We need to communicate better, things sure would go more smoothly if only there was better communication.” Does this sound familiar?
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.
In one of my research projects studying leadership in the beef industry, when I asked about characteristics of leaders — communication was one which surfaced as very important. It was not surprising. I had a feeling this would be on the list because we often think of those in leadership or executive roles as someone who has that ability to be a dynamic speaker, someone who has the ability to articulate their ideas in a charismatic or interesting way. It seems having this ability has often been associated with someone we may look up to as a leader. However, what did surprise me was — listening was a communication skill emphasized equally as important as the speaking form of communication. 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. In fact, it was emphasized that 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. They truly take the time to listen before they communicate.
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.