By Aimee Blake. Blake is completing her second master’s degree at Lincoln University, specialising in agribusiness and researching sustainable food system transformation. She is the sixth generation on the family’s small farm in Waiau Pa, Tāmaki Makaurau.
At a time when we really need it, it’s important to listen.
While completing my masters at Lincoln University, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing 27 livestock farmers.
It was beyond belief that these people, who often start work at 5am and have an endless list of tasks to do, still made time to talk to me. Over the course of these interviews I met many people and learnt many things. One of those lessons was the power of listening.
Many farmers feel disconnected and unheard. This was highlighted in recent research by Massey University that sought to understand what shapes perceptions of farming.
To sit down with a farmer in their house on their farm was a privilege. When hearing someone’s story in a curious and open-minded manner, I would often see some light return to their eyes, a weight lifted off their shoulders, a spring back in their step. I was seeing the human being delivering the words to me and I listened.
It’s a basic need: we want and need to be heard. To have someone listen, and really listen, can be powerful.
I valued what those farmers had to say because they all had something to teach, as we all do. But to be able to learn I had to listen to understand, rather than listen to respond. Here lies a key difference.
We often do a lot of talking, but not a lot of listening. To listen genuinely is hard. This is because, with so much going on in internally, we have to be aware of what’s going on our mind, to quiet our thoughts first. Are you listening to words and thinking about how you agree or disagree? How you will respond? Or are you listening not just for what being said, but what’s behind the words?
I believe to effectively navigate the times ahead we need to listen more. Listening builds trust and strong relationships. It helps us understand the other person, and importantly, it makes it more likely that you’ll be listened to, too. Imagine a world where we actually listened to each other without interruption and judgment crowding our minds. Imagine a world where we chose leaders not just on their ability to talk, but to listen.
As Epictetus put it, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Getting to root causes and finding meaningful solutions requires listening. We can prevent unintended consequences, navigate negotiations, and solve complex issues by listening. I’m not saying we need to agree, but I am saying that we need to hear and be heard.
Words should not be barriers to connection, but bridges to comprehension. The simple power of listening to understand is the key that opens up successful human relations. In a polarised world that requires communication and collaboration to thrive, the way we come together is by listening, not knowing. Give it a go, you’ll be surprised what you might learn.