Agribusiness Management ZAB 101

Week 3

This week we are going to hone in on the importance of communications; communications between, for example:

These are all very closely related to some of the other Units you’re going to be doing this year in your Agribusiness Associate Degree.

In Human Resource Management, for example, you’ll learn much more about communications with staff and contractors, particularly through formal mechanisms like Job Descriptions and performance review processes.

In the Agribusiness Marketing Unit later in the year you will learn about the importance of communications with your customers and how to ensure your communications efforts are effective in winning and keeping customers.

So, for this topic within the Agribusiness Management Unit, we are going to boil down the subject of communications into its fundamentals.

Interpersonal Communications

The second point is that you get about 7 seconds to make a first impression. When you meet someone for the first time, your primal brain is assessing, in milliseconds, is this person a friend or foe? do I approach or avoid? Does this person have status and authority? These are human survival mechanisms. But in business and life you can use them to your advantage if you pay attention to these key things:

Adjust your attitude – think about the situation you are entering and what kind of impression you want to make. Do you want to be business-like, friendly, open? In some circumstances, for example if you’re heading into a difficult contract negotiation, you may want to have a more authoritative and aloof attitude. But that would be a totally inappropriate attitude if you’re going to a meeting with a prospective customer or employee.

Straighten your posture – Posture is a non-verbal cue for power and status. If you want to appear more powerful and authoritative, stand up tall and square up your shoulders.

Smile – a smile says I’m friendly and approachable.

Make eye contact – this indicates openness and interest.

Shake hands – this is an instantly successful way of quickly establishing rapport (in most western cultures anyway).

Lean in slightly – by leaning slightly towards the other person it shows that you’re interested and engaged.

However, when applying these tips, be ever mindful of the other person’s personal space and cultural sensitivities. If you are too engaging, too loud, move too much into people’s personal space, you can very quickly lose rapport and respect.

The Third key point is that the message heard is the message received. It doesn’t matter what you think you’ve said, if the person or people you’re speaking with didn’t understand that message or it was unclear, they’re not going to understand or remember what you said. Because we all have different attitudes, values and social norms of behaviour, we interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues in our communications differently. The meaning behind the message is not always directly apparent. As we get to know people better and understand their values and even their idiosyncrasies, we learn to interpret what they are saying through that ‘filter’. The more we talk to people and the more we listen to what they are really saying, the greater the chance of there being shared meaning between us.

Let’s explore these in a bit more detail:

Firstly, the point that over 90% of face-to-face communications is non-verbal. Your body language, the expression on your face, your eye contact, what you are doing with your hands, your stance, and how much you move around while you speak, says more than what is coming out of your mouth in the form of words. If you are engaged, present, have an open stance, maintain eye contact and nod your head occasionally the person you are conversing with is much more likely to a) pay attention to you; b) really listen to what you have said and c) understand what you’re saying.

Finally, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason: listening is more important than speaking.

These fundamentals underpin every conversation you have with other people, regardless of whether they are casual conversations getting to know your work colleagues or whether you are having a difficult conversation with someone about, for example, their work not being done on time or to the standard you expected.

This is quite a difficult subject to teach through a recorded lecture; it’s a bit ironic really. But it is what it is so we will have to make the most of any opportunities we do get when we are present with each other to practice some of the things we are learning in this lecture!

I’d like you to watch a TED Talk now by Celeste Headlee, a US-based journalist, radio and TV presenter and regular TED Speaker. Her TED Talk on ‘ways to have better conversations’ highlights the points I’ve been talking about here in a very succinct and entertaining talk. The 10 tips for better conversations she presents here are tips that you can apply in all conversations; whether personal or business-related.

Celesete Headlee | 10 ways to have a better conversation | 11.44 mins

Conscious Listening:

As discussed earlier, listening is probably more important than speaking when it comes to establishing rapport with people and establishing shared meaning in your communications.

Listening requires concentration and the ability to ‘let go’ of your own pre-conceptions, values and attitudes.

Most people listen to respond; not listen to understand.

If you are always listening with the view to responding, you are always thinking about what you’re going to say next. You’re therefore interpreting what the other person is saying from the perspective of how you’re going to respond.

If you’re listening to understand, you’re able to just concentrate on what the other person is saying.

Active listening is a technique that you can learn by concentrating really hard on what the person is saying and then thinking of what questions you could ask that person that might enable them to open up even further to enable you to understand more deeply their point of view. Questions like, ‘how did that make you feel?’ and ‘why did you feel that way?’ or ‘what did you do next?’ makes the person you are conversing with feel as though you are really listening to them. If you can identify key themes or issues in what they are saying and include those in your questions back to them, it further adds to the other person’s perception that you are listening to understand.

In business, particularly when you employ staff, it is really critical that you hear the whole story, from as many different perspectives as you can, so that you can get to the bottom of problems and issues, in order to be able to resolve them more completely and efficiently.

By asking questions that prompt responses that expose ever deeper understandings of what’s really going on in the minds of the people you are managing, you can expose systemic problems and other issues like personality clashes etc, that enable you to really understand what’s going on so that you can solve it. If you only keep your conversations at a superficial ‘tell us what happened’ level, you will not understand the root cause of problems.

Active listening | 2.39 mins

What communications mechanism is appropriate, when?

In the first half of this lecture, I stressed how inter-personal communications are one of the keystones of success in business and personal life. We also talked about how important non-verbal communications are in conveying your message effectively and that you only get 7 seconds to make a good first impression.

But inter-personal, verbal communications are not always possible, nor always appropriate in business management.

We have already mentioned that due to those ‘problems’ of non-verbal communication and differences in values, attitudes and cultural norms, often the message sent in an interpersonal communication is not the message received.

Sometimes it’s not even as subtle as a ‘body language’ or interpretation problem. Sometimes there’s just plain mistakes in the message sent and/or the message received.

And this can be a very costly problem in an agribusiness context.

So what are some of the other forms of communication we might use commonly in a business context? We could use

The method we choose to communicate what we want to convey will depend on, you guessed it, the purpose of the message; the importance of that message and, whether there are any personal sensitivities that need to be taken into account.

Particularly in agricultural production, when it’s the detail within the message that is so critical that you have to be very careful about what communications mechanism you use.

Imagine, for example, if I was to tell a spray contractor that I wanted Paddock number 12 to be sprayed with MCPA at 4 litres/hectare on Monday. The contractor might be on the tractor at the time: What he heard was “Spray paddock 5 with MCPA at 4 litres/hectare on Monday”. Very easy to do, but the outcome is that the wrong paddock gets sprayed. In this case, it may not be that detrimental, but there can often be more serious consequences of not using an appropriate communication medium for the message intent.

In the case of issuing instructions about specific tasks, particularly where actions are time and place-specific and there are important details like application rates to be conveyed, you need to use a communication medium that is a more permanent record of the instruction and can be referred to multiple times for double-checking.

Sometimes, an email, text message, Facebook message or a printed form or paddock map is necessary to get accuracy into your communication.

As mentioned earlier, particularly when there’s going to be some emotional responses and reactions to the message you’re trying to send; or when you need to understand why people might be upset or angry, it’s really important that you consider how you will manage personal sensitivities in the mix of communications mechanisms you will use.

For example, just like I hope you wouldn’t tell your girlfriend or boyfriend that you’re dumping them by text message; so too you can’t tell someone that you want to end their employment by text message. You would have discussions with them as well as putting the detail in writing.

So, particularly in contract management, human resource management, customer negotiations and the like, it’s really important that you consider what mix of interpersonal and other communications mechanisms you might use to ensure there is clarity in the message sent and the message received.

Over to you again now to do some reflection in your Portfolio’s.

I’ve set four scenarios for you to consider. I’d like you to just jot down a few dot points on which form or forms of communication might be appropriate that forms of communication you might use in these four cases:

Please click here to proceed to the week 3 assessment task


Created with images by StateofIsrael - "Agriculture" • skeeze - "clasped hands comfort hands" • Alexas_Fotos - "press journalist photographer" • MIH83 - "phone old old fashioned" • Pexels - "post it notes sticky notes note" • Cea. - "Museum of Communication" • skeeze - "mandrill howling portrait" • AMagill - "spray" • Unsplash - "cell phone person cell"

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