Your Job as a Fire Service Leader is to Learn What People Value

Listening to Learn

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ken Farmer
By Ken Farmer
07/05/2011 -
It’s that time of year! The fields are all planted and the flowers are blooming. The crops are growing and we spend time pulling weeds, making sure they get plenty of water but beyond simple maintenance, things should be flowing. We have all shaken off our winter doldrums and the good ole juices are getting us excited about new projects; things we want to improve and change, as well as new ways of looking at existing things around the farm. Summer is coming in about a month with its heat and humidity. For me the spring and fall are the best two times of the year when you are on a farm. All kind of things are growing and you have a fresh view of life. image

One of the many things you have to learn on the farm, and in life, is that there is no one single way to do everything. While growing up I learned many times while trying to fix a broken part, getting the tractor running, making repairs to our 80-year-old house or working in the hot sun on a broken bailer or combine, you must learn to look at the work from a different perspective and you more often than not will learn something.

I remember working on a barbed wire fence repair where we realized that the best repair was to just replace the posts and wire instead of trying to just patch it once again. The work took longer than was planned but in the end it was the best decision as the fence was now solid and the cows lost one of their favorite escape routes! The old phrase that “to a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” relates very well to work both on the farm and in life. This quote is attributed to several people including the humorist Mark Twain; Abraham Maslow in his book, The Psychology of Science, published in 1966 as well as Bernard Baruch who was an American businessperson that was born in 1870 and died in 1965. Regardless of who said it, it applies to many things in life. If one thing works well for you it tends to be the first thing you try. Reality will teach you something very different, however.

Recently a good friend, Marion Long, told me he was reading the book The 5 Love Languages. It was written in the early 1990s by Dr. Gary Chapman. His book deals with the five primary ways we communicate our feelings to our spouse. He defines these five as:

  • Words of Affirmation
  •  Quality Time
  •  Gifts
  •  Acts of Service
  •  Physical Touch

Basically, his theory is that we are each of a primary and a secondary love language. The big problems in most relationships occur when our language or method we use to express love and care is not responded to in a similar language or method. This is where things go bad.

As an example, if the husband’s love language is gifts then he will try to always make his wife happy by giving her gifts most of the time, when he wants to show his love and concern. The problem comes when he presents this nice gift and his wife tosses it back in his face. He is totally confused! Let’s say the husband likes to play golf or go hunting. As his primary love language is gifts, his typical answer on how to show his wife he cares is to buy her something while he is gone and give it to her upon his return. It’s sort of like when a cat brings you a dead rat and lays it at your feet. The cat is very proud and you are sick to your stomach! The husband means well and thinks that gifts are good from his perspective.

The problem is that his wife’s perspective is that spending quality time together is her primary love language. The end result is that he is trying to make her happy with what matters to him (as his primary love language) and she would rather him stay home with her and have some quality time (her primary love language) together.

So you can fill in most of the blanks from here! He continues to buy nice gifts and she continues to throw them back at him. Over time, things get worse and worse. He gets fed up because she does not appreciate his gifts, and she ends up not wanting to spend ANY time with him since he treats her like a jerk. At this point you understand and probably have a ton of much better stories than I do. Anyone who has an ex anything (friend, spouse, etc.) can attest to this, unfortunately, including me sadly.

So what can you learn? I see three main lessons:

You should take different approaches with everything and everyone: Just like everyone has a different primary love language, people and things often need to have a different approach. Some of us think the only answer is newer-better-faster technology or we should replace the old part with a new one. Others think we should fire the troublemaker immediately and get a new employee who is smarter or will appreciate the job more. Some of life’s hardest lessons have come to me when I stopped and asked myself what was the real root of the question.

Listen twice as much as you talk: God gave you two ears so you listen twice as much as you talk! Take the time to listen and learn from your mistakes. In the heat of the moment, we all often jump to the answer we think is right. Give yourself time to listen to the other person’s perspective. Maybe you missed something or maybe that person did not explain things fully. Time is normally on your side. Resist the temptation to make a snap decision. Do your research and take the time to roll that decision over in your mind and thoughts before locking into one answer. Listen a little more and try to take the other side of the coin into your consideration. Sadly, haste makes waste when dealing with people and things.

Give what the other person needs, not always what you think is right to give: Some of my most favorite gifts are ones when someone took the time to figure out what I liked and not what they thought I should have. The extra time they spent means a lot to me. Many times we think we KNOW what the right thing is but how often do we consider what that person may really wish to have? Sometimes something like quality time or words of affirmation may be more important to the other person than a fancy gift. Your job is to try to learn what people value. It makes your job a little harder but the payoff is well worth it.

So what’s the answer? Dr. Chapman has a whole web page on this, of course! ( You can take a handy dandy test and find out your primary language and that of your spouse before they become your soon-to-be-ex! I have read the book and highly recommend you look at the site and read the book. It’s very enlightening. Try it, you might like it and learn something!

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