Listening is a skill that has to be mastered. It’s not the same thing as hearing. It’s hearing, comprehending, and responding to what was being said in the appropriate manner. Ask any parent about how tough it can be to get their children to listen. All of us have horror stories about telling children to clean up their mess five or 10 times before they actually do it. I’ve had a child basically run out of clothes because she heard us tell her a dozen times to bring her hamper to the laundry room, but she never actually listened to us.

Thankfully, most of us get the hang of listening as adults, when it becomes even more important for our business and personal relationships. And when you’ve advanced far enough in your career that you’ve reached a position of authority? Listening becomes critical.

If your company is multifaceted enough, you can probably make just about any meat product imaginable. However, your next best seller may not come from telling a prospective customer about your capabilities. Instead, it may come from asking them about what their needs are, and listening to their response. All the production capabilities in the world are great, but your company may gain even more business if you listen and then act as a problem solver.

I recently attended the annual AAMP Convention, which is also home to the American Cured Meat Championships. There were almost 700 products entered this year, but there could only be a handful of winners. Of those grand champions, I doubt there were any that were created perfectly, on the very first recipe. More than likely, it took trial and error, and some consulting with colleagues, customers and coworkers — listening —  before it was just right. I’ve often heard that the best conversations at the AAMP Convention in the hallways or the other social gatherings, when processors have a chance to talk about their problems and get advice about solving them.

Being a good listener can be an essential part of maintaining good personal relationships — just ask your spouse or significant other if you don’t believe me. Don’t just save that skill for your home, though. Practice it in the workplace and see if you don’t learn something new.