Hand Gestures and Other Forms of Communication in an Ag Operation

Hand Gestures and Communication

If you have spent any time around farmers or ranchers, you have either experienced their hand gesture language first hand or heard stories about that infamous form of communication.

Usually this is a random combination of hand gestures, offered up to communicate directions, their meanings most often only understood by the one gesturing. Due to the lack of universal signals, this form of communication usually results in further confusion rather than understanding. To add to the confusion, signals are usually given rapidly and little time allowed for reaction.

Speaking from various personal experiences, signals for “hurry up” and “slow down” carry a strong resemblance to each other and the signal for “watch out” is hard to pick up on while dodging an angry momma cow.

Although regular communication in an agriculture operation usually centers around the day-to-day tasks to keep the operation running smoothly, as in where to move the grain truck or which gate to close, more in-depth conversations are necessary as well.

Talking about changes and new advances to make the operation more successful as well as discussing the future and the succession plan are also very important topics.

Yet communication of this caliber is often lacking in most of our operations. Let's face it, starting a conversation about communication and harder topics can quickly fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

The following is a small list of points that, through my own experience, are important to keep in mind when communicating on the farm or ranch.

1) Don’t Take It Personal. High stress and time sensitive situations are numerous in agriculture operations, so conversations are bound to happen rapidly and without a “please” or “thank you”. Try not to take offense, these quick comments are meant to get the point across and are not meant to be mean. Shouting is usually due to distance between communicating parties and/or machinery running while the conversation is taking place...Usually.

2) Ask Some Questions. Emphasis on “some”. If you need more clarification in order to accomplish what is being requested, then by all means ask. But if you are going to tie up the next 15 minutes asking about every potential outcome and meaning then perhaps you should spend some time brushing up on my next tip.

3) Walk a Fine Line Between Anticipate and Assume. The longer you work with someone or within a certain organization, the more apt you will be to anticipate their next move or what they are thinking. This is great as it cuts down on clarifying questions and execution time. But be careful not to let your ego jump out ahead of you and decide those cattle are headed to the north pasture without at least some small clue to hint at that.

4) Embrace The Difficult. There are some topics that are simply not going to be easy or fun to tackle. They are going to make you think hard, to dig deep and even express some true feelings. Potential changes to the way you do business, new concepts within the industry and the future of your livelihood are tough topics and should not be taken lightly.

5) Don’t Not Talk. Avoiding conversations is never a good approach, no matter the topic. Granted, there are situations better suited for certain conversations rather than others. Try not to let the audience, the lack of audience, the topic, the lack of information, etc. be the reason something is not discussed. These tougher topics normally require more than one conversation, so if the first round isn’t a success give it another go.

The great thing about strong communication is that everyone is unique in how they achieve it. There is not a “cut and dry” answer as to how your family and your operation should successfully communicate. Thankfully there is help and advice on this topic in every bookstore you visit and every agricultural seminar you attend.

Utilize those resources and start talking!

This post was written by The Rural Sisterhood Contributor Abby Majerus! Thank you so much Abby for sharing your insight on the topic of communication. It is a skill that continuously needs to be practiced and improved that is for sure!

Abby is a third generation farmer and rancher, and works alongside her parents on their family operation in Central Montana. They raise Black Angus x Hereford cattle as well as small grain crops and alfalfa.  She is a University of Montana graduate with a BS Sociology and MBA, as well as UM Dance Team alumni. She is passionate about seeing agriculture thrive, educating people about where their food comes from, and what it takes to produce it. She loves the country life. She fills her free time teaching fitness classes, working from home in marketing, researching new endeavors for their ranch, exploring a photography hobby, volunteering her time to encourage entrepreneurial growth in their community, and just about any activity that allows her to be outdoors. You can find Abby on Facebook as Abby Majerus and connect with her on Instagram as @montanaabby.