A few weeks back, I shared several lessons learned while sticking my neck out and engaging in discussions centered around food and agriculture topics. Today, I share a few lessons learned by failure; sometimes my own.
- Assuming science will give us all the answers; it only gives us some of the answers. Pick a topic, any topic. Chances are you can find “scientists” on either side of the issue. Many people in the general public do not trust science or believe it can be bought-off. Often times, questions may be more about the ethics than the science.
- Using economics as the justification for all of our practices. If you own a business or depend on something for your livelihood, chances are who know what makes sound economic sense. “Of course we treat our cows well or they wouldn’t produce for us,” probably doesn’t convey the right message to a non-farm consumer. Making more money and welfare of animals/environment doesn’t always go hand in hand.
- Assuming that you have to speak up in defense of all agricultural practices. Chances are you don’t have experience in all areas, you’ll get backed into a corner and lose all credibility. Also, not all practices are defensible. (Read more) Wait, why are we waiting to play defense?
- Being reactive rather than proactive. Be candid. If you know it’s a (possible) issue, be transparent now. Waiting until it meets your “trigger for action” means you’re already behind. (Read more)
- Assuming we can’t do better. There is always room for continual progress. Just because a practice was the best we knew how to do 10 years ago, does not make it the best available practice today. (Read more)
- Attacking everyone who disagrees with you in a negative, critical manner. Food is a personal issue to most folks. Many folks associate animals with their pets at home. These are emotional topics for everyone. If you get defensive and attack, you’re not contributing to productive dialogue. (Read more)
- Not being willing to listen because we are so busy responding. Communication is a two-way street. You have two ears and one mouth. Often times we need to stop and ask questions, listen, and hear what others are saying. (Read more)
- Assuming that the lunatic fringe is the general public. We spend way to much time focusing on lunatics and not working with the public. (Read more)
- Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are stupid, evil or both. Good people can look at the same issue differently. Not everyone’s situation or circumstance is the same. There is more than one way of growing food and livestock. Respect that fact. (Read more)
- Not working to branch outside your comfort zone. Stop preaching to the choir. Engage in other conversations, seek out other perspectives. The more you learn about other perspectives, the more you’ll discover how much (or how little) you know about your own. (Read more)
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” — Darwin
Tips for approaching controversial subjects…
- When possible, set the stage to avoid fear of retaliation from opposing viewpoints
- Listen respectfully, without interrupting
- Respect one another’s views
- Criticize ideas, not individuals
- Commit to learning, not debating
- Avoid blame and speculation
- Avoid inflammatory language
- Consider your own biases or confusion surrounding the issue
- Recognize the diversity of the group. This is an asset and can lead to authentic conversation
- Set a framework and objectives for the discussion that lead to engagement and consideration of opposing viewpoints
- When possible provide a foundation and context for better understanding
- As a moderator, foster civility and prepare to deal with tense or emotional moments
- At the end of the conversation summarize and reflect, then always leave the door open for follow-up conversations.
Read more tips for approaching controversial subjects in an earlier post.