The art of listening: Don't sell it short


"Most dairy producers tend to fall into one of three categories; those who are interested in maximizing profit, those who are interested in achieving excellence, and those who are pursuing a way of life."

"Most dairy producers tend to fall into one of three categories;those who are interested in maximizing profit, those who are interestedin achieving excellence, and those who are pursuing a way of life."

I heard this opinion expressed by Dr. Paul Blackmer many years ago, andI find it a useful concept when dealing with clients and customers.

If we know what is important to them, we can offer services that helpthem meet their goals. That makes us valuable to them, which is crucialto our own success.

Consider the following statements I heard from clients over the years,and guess which category applies to them.

* "Feeding the calves is about the only job I enjoy aroundhere. I'm not about to send them to a custom grower."

* "Well, I like to make a lot of milk. If you think thatwill improve production, I'm all for it."

* "I spent $18,000 on copper sulfate last year. Do you reallythink it pays to use a foot bath?"

How to proceed

These quotes provide clues for how to proceed with each individual. Thefirst one came on a 60-cow herd, which was operated by a husband and wifewith no hired labor. I thought that sending the calves to a custom growerwould allow them to focus more attention on their adult cows, and, in turn,generate a better financial return.

This was probably correct, but the response from the wife, coupled withher body language and voice tone, told me loud and clear that pursuing thisline of thought would not be productive.

While her attitude closed the door on one option, it opened up another.Since she obviously took pride and pleasure in her calves, she was veryreceptive to carefully stated suggestions to improve in that area.

"Carefully stated" is important, because if she perceived criticism,I would be in trouble again. Caring for calves was an important and pleasurablepart of her life.

The second quote actually opened two avenues to provide service. Highproduction meant excellence to him. Therefore, I knew that he was alwaysopen to hearing how he could improve production.

Sharing ideas

I often extended my visit with billable time by sharing ideas in thatdepartment. However, he knew he had a tendency to pursue high productionat any cost, and he often asked for my opinion on suggestions he had receivedfrom others.

This does not mean he always accepted my advice. He often paid me forit, and then ignored it. But he wanted to hear it regardless.

The last quote implies different expectations. This man did not wantto hear any suggestions unless I could intelligently discuss the costs andbenefits of them.

More than one would-be advisor had met humiliation by citing results,but not being able to attach the economic implications of those results.

Indeed, his question regarding the copper sulfate caught me by surprise,and I had to beg some time to formulate an answer.

When I did reply, I had made estimate of how much lameness the footbathprevented, and a total cost estimate of losses due to lameness. When thesefigures were compared to the cost of copper sulfate, he continued to useit, and continued to use me as an advisor.

Recently I had one more example of truly understanding the needs of theclient. I currently oversee a commercial calf and heifer raising operation.We strive to produce well-grown animals, and have them freshen and enterthe milking herd at roughly 22 months of age. Some of our customers areused to seeing heifers at 26 or 27 months of age. These people sometimescomplain that the ones we raise are smaller and do not milk as well as expected.

A few weeks ago, I asked a member of our nutrition staff to check outa complaint along the lines mentioned above. This person went to the farmprepared to discuss lifetime milk production and the savings realized byfreshening younger heifers. A few days after his visit, he called me todiscuss the results.

Let's talk

"His problem really had nothing to do with milk production. Thereal trouble was that his wife does the milking, and the heifers we raisedare able to squeeze ahead and get out of position, making it difficult forher to attach the unit. The ones they raised, at age 27 months, fit theparlor better."

Further questioning of this couple revealed that they were mainly focusedon a way of life, seeking only to survive a few more years to retirement.

The real point of this column is to be aware of the different factorsthat motivate dairy producers. We make a serious error if we assume allof them seek better performance, or even a better income.

The only way we can be of value to them is if we help them reach thegoals that are important to them. These goals may not be stated, or evenrecognized, but they exist somewhere, perhaps on a subconscious level.

The only way to understand their goals is to listen. Ask open-ended questions,and find out what makes them tick. Then structure your response to helpthem get what they want. If you can do that, you will ensure your role intheir operation.

Related Videos
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.