Nearly 75 percent of our time is spent communicating our thoughts and ideas. However, we are not conscious that non-verbal communication, such as facial expression, eye contact, voice intonation, body posture and motions, can express more than the oral forms do. During the process of communication, messages are sent on both levels, in verbal and non-verbal mode. Non-verbal communication accounts for 80 percent of the interpretation of the message. If the non-verbal and verbal messages are incongruous, communication fails.

Adding cultural differences in the communication context will increase the level of difficulty. Imagine what would happen when individuals from two different cultures are trying to communicate their ideas. This is exactly what is happening in the dairy industry.

In 2003, foreign-born dairy workers made up around 20 to 25 percent more of the total employed compared with 2000. Usually managerial position are still dominated by Anglo-Americans and lower positions like milkers or calf feeders are taken by foreign-born dairy employees from Mexico or Central America.

The ability of dairy managers to speak to their Hispanic workers is critical to the dairy business success. Managers must be able to train new workers, hold meetings where they provide feedback information, and hear workers’ concerns.

On top of differences in language and cultural barriers, there are other differences that must be taken into consideration concerning Hispanic and Anglo-American communication.


For example, Anglo-Americans use communication to obtain information with a more formal style than Hispanics, who communicate to build relationships.

A Hispanic person is quite comfortable standing really close to another person when speaking. Hugs and handshakes are signs of friendship and appreciation. Managers could place a hand on the employee’s shoulder while praising him for a job well done.

This is a better form of motivation for the employee than just a verbal “thanks”, especially if the action takes place when other employees are around.

Hispanic employees like to be congratulated in front of others, but the opposite, being reprimanded about one’s job-related tasks, should be done in a private meeting.

Be aware of the uses of vocabulary among persons from different nationalities, because one word could have a certain meaning to a person from one region or country and a completely different meaning for someone else. This especially applies to swear words or jokes.

The following are some points that can be adapted to any farm where Hispanic workers are employed. These points are intended to improve communication between manager and employees:

• Reduce the language barrier. Managers can learn to speak Spanish and offer incentives to workers who want to learn English.

• Make an effort to learn and understand the employees’ culture.

• Support social and recreational activities for Hispanic employees that will create a quality of life outside of the workplace. An example of this would be to support an employees’ soccer team. This would improve morale among the staff.

• Give rewards when a job is well done. Offering gift cards to reward achievements could accomplish this.

• Hire Spanish interpreters for resolving conflicts. This would also help with general meetings or helping train new employees.

• Constructive criticism preserves a positive bond between manager and employees by reducing defensiveness. Subordinates often react defensively if they feel they are being punished or threatened.

Communication in any culture takes effort, but when it involves other cultures as well, more effort is required. Taking the time to improve the non-verbal aspects of your communication will reap big benefits in the smooth running of your dairy. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to

—Excerpts from Utah State University Extension Dairy Newsletter. Gustavo Peña is a research assistant at Utah State University.