Ladies, gentlemen and kiddos in the Western Industry, it’s time to step up! What are we stepping up for you ask? Learning how to communicate on the ranch and farm through operating equipment and making a few mistakes. It’s inevitable, so I recommend learning how to deal with them sooner rather than later!
The roles we each play in the home, on the farm and in the world are evolving. While the increase in technology is beneficial in many ways, it’s also detrimental to learning hands-on tasks that teach us how to have face-to-face conversations, handle stressful situations, problem solve and be proud of ourselves for overcoming obstacles.
The other day, as I was using the skid loader (skid steer, whichever rendition you prefer to use) to remove the edge of dirt built up in the arenas throughout the summer, I started reflecting on how the skills I’ve learned on the farm and ranch have helped me throughout my life. The first thing that came to mind was communication. If a person can learn to communicate with their father, mother or spouse on the farm, he or she will be able to communicate with ANYONE!
DISCLAIMER: I love my family and know they’ve always had the best of intentions. I also want to make it clear that having a desire to learn is essential in being successful in any realm of life as both a teacher and student.
Communicating, especially with my dad, is a constant work in progress. Like many baby boomer generation men I’ve been around in my life, he has more of a, “show-tell-know” style of teaching. I’ll show you once, tell you once and you should forever know how to do it. Since studies over the last thousand years know this method typically isn’t the most effective, we have had to develop our own style of communication which consists of a few different methods.
- The Questions Method: Subtly and strategically ask questions with a look of genuine curiosity. It’s important to make whoever is teaching you feel like they’re knowledgeable and that you grasp the basics of what they’re talking about, but you’d like to have a deeper understanding all while secretly trying to dissect the first simple step of the task at hand.
- For example: To start anything with a key, you are supposed to simply turn the key right? Most farm equipment isn’t actually that simple. It takes pushing down on a button, pedal or lever, having a secret switch turned backwards, enough weight on the seat, etc. To learn the proper starting procedure, you might ask why the key is positioned where it is. The teacher will generally break it down into where the wires attach to the button you must push at the same time to get it to start. Boom, now you know you must push a button.
- The Blunt Statement Method: Sometimes, you need to look your teacher dead in the eye and make a stern statement that helps them understand that they really need to rephrase. Statements like, “I don’t understand.” “Please slow down and explain one thing at a time.” Occasionally you’ll have to take this to the next extreme with “I’m walking away, and we’ll come back to this in 5 minutes.” Then physically walk away, regroup and try again. If you choose this method, don’t forget to take deep breaths. We’re trying to avoid huge conflicts over simple tasks but still get the point across.
- The Context Clues/Mind Reading Method: over the years of working with people, I’ve done my best to pick up on eye movements, hand signals, voice tones and face colors as I try to figure it out how I’m supposed to complete a task. Typically, if you’ve been around someone enough, you can pick up on clues to get the general picture. If you aren’t completing the task by reading their mind, they’ll eventually speak up. Again, remain calm. The quote “Be like a duck, calm on the surface and paddling like crazy underneath,” comes to mind when executing this method.
- Figure It Out Method: Sometimes it’s best to just try it on your own. (I don’t recommend this for everyone.) For instance, when I first learned to operate the skid loader, I didn’t know how to lock the bucket in. After using the “Question Method” unsuccessfully, I took it upon myself to figure it out. I was cleaning up manure which worked okay to begin with, then I decided I need to empty the manure pit just as I’d seen my dad do before. I knew to fill up the bucket then drive out into the pasture and spread it slowly by tipping the bucket. My execution was on point until… the bucket dropped off multiple times and left huge divots in the grass, which I was able to somewhat smooth up, but I couldn’t make them disappear. If your dad is anything like mine, he knew it had happened before he even knew I was using the skid loader. When he got home, he was a little frustrated, but also proud that I’d tried to figure it out without doing any major damage. We all want our loved ones to have a sense of independent confidence. We examined the harmless damage and were able to have a civilized conversation about how to lock in the bucket. **I don’t recommend using this method if you might cause irreplaceable, unfixable or extremely expensive damage.
All these communication methods are great to learn first-hand with people who will love you and forgive you regardless of how much damage you incur. This leads me to my next benefit of equipment operating, humility! I promise you, it’s not a matter of if you will do damage, but when. No one gets out of operating equipment without a broken posts, dents and repairs!
I was feeding the cattle a bale of hay one day with the tractor. I personally prefer to use the skid loader, but I had to use the tractor to put the bale in the bale ring, which I executed successfully! I knew I needed to leave the bale forks on the tractor, but I failed to calculate how long they were when I pulled into the shed. Still today, there are two perfectly symmetrical holes in the side of one of our buildings where I “came in hot”! I can still hear the steaming freight train (a.k.a. my father) coming before he even opened the door to see what I’d just done!
Fortunately, I’ve learned a few defense mechanisms over the years, one of them is an innocent and comical form of score keeping. I know of a few places around the farm and may have a few pictures of operating mistakes he’s made to make sure we both remember that we’re both human. While it’s a last resort for preventing a lecture, it does usually diffuse the bomb or at least soften the blow!
Suggestion: make sure the equipment and potential objects that can be damaged are insured before you start!
I learned at a young age to diffuse any anger by quickly admitting to the mistakes I’ve made, apologizing, finding a solution and helping fix the problem, all with a smile. For example, a few weeks ago I was getting ready to go to a barrel race. I had pulled up to get diesel fuel and fill the water tank and realized I’d left one of the back-trailer doors open. I didn’t give it much thought as it wasn’t windy that day and as soon as I was done, I was going to back the trailer 150 feet right back to where it was and load the horses, harmless! While backing the trailer up to the barn with the door open, I parked close enough to another trailer that I couldn’t swing the door shut after I loaded the horses, no problem. I thought, I’ll latch the butt bar and ease forward just enough that I can close the door, put the truck in park, close the door and be barrel race bound. Simple, right? As my solution was put into action, disaster struck! I had moved ahead just enough for forward momentum to cause the door to inch itself open just far enough to catch on the fender of the other trailer and get ripped completely off. The thud couldn’t be missed by anyone on the farm.
I put the truck in park to examine the damage. I concluded that it wasn’t that bad! Yes, the door was completely detached from the trailer and laying on the ground right as I needed to be leaving to make it to the barrel race on time, but it wasn’t even dented, the window wasn’t broken, and the latches on the trailer were still intact. We’d just need to replace the bent hinges and bolts on the door and we’d be able to fix the problem at a low cost and a little work!
Now comes the part where I get to tell Neil (my dad). This wasn’t the first time I’ve made a mistake, so I put my self-taught defense, admitting, strategic problem presenting skills I’ve developed over my lifetime to work. I’ve been his daughter for 29 years, so he knew something was up. I started my confession by stating the obvious, “I messed up and you’re not going to be happy.” Every father’s favorite words, especially knowing that means he’s about to have to fix something. I continued with, “BUT… the door is still fine. I believe it’s totally fixable and it won’t take much.” Still not impressed, I ended with, “I know I messed up, I’m human, I’m sorry and please let me know what I can do to help fix it.” I created a problem, took responsibility, offered a solution and to help fix it. Within two weeks (we had to wait for hinges) the door was back on and it’s just like new! By using this method, I was able to diffuse the situation and avoid the stern talking to. It wasn’t until we finished that my father smiled, but I believe all Dads secretly get a kick out of the aftermath of these stories as long as there’s no major harm. And if you’re a dad reading this right now and you aren’t reminiscing similar situations with a smile, I strongly suggest you try not taking things quite so seriously and remember that you’ve made mistakes too. Forgive and move on.
Again, good insurance is really important! Making these mistakes has kept me humble and learning how to handle them has given me confidence. None of us get out of life without making mistakes. Learning how to have grace in these situations is a life skill you’ll forever be thankful for.
For the ladies and children, from personal experiences, the skills learned on the farm or ranch will impress some men, but intimidate most. While many men in the western lifestyle still have fairly traditional “manly” roles, the role of women has evolved, and many men aren’t sure how to handle it. With a little patience and waiting to find the right one, they’ll appreciate being able to call on you when they need an extra hand on the farm pulling a wagon, building fence or whatever task a man decides they can’t do 100% alone. 😉
For the boys and men, these skills are impressive to ladies, but let them help! If they don’t know how, teach them, PATIENTLY!!
I encourage you all to embrace skills learned, have the hard conversations, let go and laugh, enjoy the process and make some lasting memories with your loved ones. The memories working together on the farm are irreplaceable, so do your part in making them fun, even when it doesn’t go quite right!