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Herd Management: ‘We’re not all members of the psychic network’ and other advice for effective farm communication

Somula Schwoeppe for Progressive Dairy Published on 06 August 2021

Two tiny toads ate fat flying flies. No, you are not being challenged with a tongue twister, but do you remember playing the telephone game at 4-H or FFA meetings growing up?

The game has been around what seems like forever – and as a 4-H leader, it was always one of my favorite games to play for an icebreaker or during recreation. It’s easy to play, doesn’t take any equipment and can be played anywhere at any time. The crème de la crème is: It’s a game that can be played together by people of all ages while teaching good lessons and having fun.



Sitting in a circle, the first person whispers to their neighbor on the right the starting phrase, such as “two tiny toads ate fat flying flies.” Each person whispers the same phrase to their neighbor and the message makes its way around the circle. It never ends the same way it started. The last person to receive the message repeats the words out loud so everyone can hear how much it has changed from the first whisper to the last. “Two tiny toads ate fat flying flies” may end up as “shiny new roads make flat tires.”

The message is confused, and the meaning is totally different from the initial communication. When playing the game, the end result is usually laughter and a more relaxed group that is ready and willing to focus and work together. The telephone game provides a quick example of the importance of active listening and how misconceptions can end up making a huge difference. It also helps children understand the impact gossip and rumors can have when stories are repeated. In real life, miscommunication is not enjoyable and often leads to struggle and strife, and people become disengaged, upset or hurt, and sometimes angry.

We know words are powerful; however, sometimes what we do not realize is: How we say things or what our body language is expressing can also manipulate our communication. The 7-38-55 rule states that only 7% of meaning is communicated through spoken words, 38% of meaning through tone of voice, and 55% of our message is communicated through body language.

Body language is the unspoken element of our communication that often reveals our true feelings and emotions. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A simple smile or frown has the power to completely change the personal energy being exchanged in a conversation. Just think of how it feels when someone smiles at you and laughs with appreciation at something you said or how difficult it is to forget an angry exchange full of hurtful words.

Back in March, during the Cornerstone Dairy Academy at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) Business Conference, I was privileged to listen to Michael Hoffman from Igniting Performance Inc. and learn about communication, business culture and coaching for success. Hoffman shared this astounding fact, “We are not all members of the psychic network. We have to actually speak our thoughts out loud in order for people to know what we want or need.” Wow! What a simple, hilarious statement that was also brutally honest. How many times have I expected someone to read my mind and do what I want?


Hoffman shared five practical tips for coaching successful communication.

  1. Start the conversation.
  2. Assess the wants and needs.
  3. Lead people through the discussion.
  4. Eliminate any fog.
  5. Secure up the conversation.

Trust and patience are key ingredients in relationships, and whether farming in a small group with family or with a large team of employees, you have to develop a sense of trust and feeling of safety for active communication to occur – a type of home-base where people can listen to learn and understand one another and not just listen to respond.

During his presentation, Hoffman also suggested the problem is quite often not really the problem – how we deal with the problem is the problem. How many times have you had a conversation go completely off track or felt like what you said was not what others heard? For example, recently when a chat became a disagreement, a friend of mine asked, “Did we just have a conversation that I know absolutely nothing about?” Looking back, that was an amusing moment, but thinking about conversations with my sons, misunderstandings are sometimes not so funny, and frustration is the result. I am interested in my sons’ success and love to ask them questions about what they are doing, what their plans are and when they plan for things to happen. All of this is because I am so interested in learning about them and their interests. What they hear is Mom asking nagging questions and what they sometimes feel is criticism.

While talking with friends at the conference, I met a young man the same age as my oldest son. We started talking about multiple generations working together, and he expressed his frustration with his mother constantly asking him questions and making suggestions on what to do next. I gave him the side-eye and asked him if there was any chance my son had put him up to talking with me about these topics. We both laughed and then talked a bit more about the way we each viewed the exchange of questions and answers in our respective conversations, and the lightbulb went off for me because I was able to hear from this stranger what my son was experiencing. Hopefully, he has newfound patience for his mother as well.

It is for sure a fact: We are not all members of the psychic network, we cannot read minds, and the telephone game is fun to play when you are at a party, but it is an ineffective way to communicate messages. To be effective team members and to run successful businesses, we need to be expert communicators. To learn more, and build your personal toolkit, check out Michael Hoffman or other resources on PDPW’s Dairy Signal podcast.  end mark

Somula Schwoeppe
  • Somula Schwoeppe

  • Dairy Producer
  • Huntingburg, Indiana
  • Email Somula Schwoeppe