In my previous life as a consulting veterinarian, I was generally the one who did most of the talking while my clients (hopefully) were listening. Now as a dairy owner, I find the roles are reversed. And, I have had to learn to listen critically. Failure to do so can quickly result in what I call Information Overload Syndrome (IOS). Maybe IOS is not listed in the medical text books, but for many of us it can be a source of frustration and confusion.

Let me share an example. We’re getting ready to cut silage here. During the past week, I have had five different vendors drop by — all trying to convince me to buy their silage inoculants. While their sales pitches sounded great, I must first decide if I need the product. 

So, who should you listen to? In order to avoid IOS, you must discern which individual’s opinions you value. Then, you must train yourself to listen critically in order to sort out the valuable information from the clutter.

Here are the steps I use to listen critically:

1. Talk to your employees.

They can be the most reliable source of information when it comes to the daily operation of your business. If you don’t talk to your employees on a regular basis, start doing so now. If cultural or language barriers limit your communication, find ways to overcome the problem. 

Before you buy a product or service, ask your employees if you need it. If your operation needs fine-tuning, or even a major overhaul, talk to your staff about it — and listen carefully. Encourage openness. You might be surprised how much insight your staff has into the situations you face. 

2. Utilize advisers. 

If you choose to use advisers, challenge them to deliver information that will move your business forward. Structure their visits to fit your immediate needs. Let them know of any constraints or limitations in resources that might keep you from fully implementing their recommendations. Don’t let a consultant dictate the direction of your business. Speak up if you are not in synch with the recommendations being offered. A good listener also must be a forceful speaker when the need arises. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to fulfill their goals instead of yours.

3. Allied dairy industry.

Information from this group is probably the hardest to manage. But this group is also where most cutting-edge technology originates.  So, it is important to listen closely so you can remove financial bias and determine if the goods or services have merit for your operation.

I find that company representatives who take time to make an appointment are the ones that bring the most relevant information to my operation. Companies that do not recognize how busy most dairy producers are and just show up unannounced are at the other end -— and I simply don’t make time for them. Courtesy and professionalism go a long way toward getting my attention.

Take action

You should not fear IOS. Rather, learn how to listen critically so that you can sort through all of the information in order to receive the benefit. By the way, critical listening skills should also be used when reading a magazine, browsing a Web site or attending a meeting.

Learn to listen, filter and analyze the information’s value. Then, take the appropriate action to move your business forward. 

Paul Johnson is a veterinarian and dairy producer in Climax, Ga.