How to lose an argument on food and agriculture topics

how to lose an argument in food and agriculture conversations

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)
  7. 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)
  8. 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)
  9. 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)
  10. 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

But sometimes, honestly, you just have to know how to lose gracefully. And then some will argue it’s possible to lose the argument, but win the cause.

Tips for approaching controversial subjects…

  • When possible, set the stage to avoid fear of retaliation from opposing viewpoints
  1. Listen respectfully, without interrupting
  2. Respect one another’s views
  3. Criticize ideas, not individuals
  4. Commit to learning, not debating
  5. Avoid blame and speculation
  6. 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.

how to lose an argument in food and agriculture conversations

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About Ryan Goodman (988 Articles)
Ryan Goodman lives in Helena, MT and comes from an Arkansas cattle ranching family. Since growing up on a family cow/calf and stocker-calf operation, he has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country. A graduate of Oklahoma State, Ryan is currently working on a Master's degree from the University of Tennessee. He works continuously to share his story of ranch life through community outreach and social media, all while encouraging others in agriculture to do the same.

10 Comments on How to lose an argument on food and agriculture topics

  1. Great stuff, Ryan!

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  2. Thank you very much for this timely cohesive piece, I will be putting your recommendations into practice shortly in my area regarding water supply for ag!! This will help me A LOT!

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  3. Ed Nicholson // April 16, 2014 at 6:49 AM // Reply

    This is really good stuff, Ryan. Thanks. I’ll be sharing. Over the years, the impulse I’ve had to work hardest to stifle is the tendency to become assertively defensive, narrowly focusing on what I’m saying, rather than what the audience might be hearing.
    Keep up the good work!

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  4. I like your statement, “Criticize the idea, not individuals.” We spend way too much time calling people clueless on a topic, ignorant.

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  5. Caryl Velisek // April 16, 2014 at 8:27 AM // Reply

    Good advice, Ryan. In the long time I have lived, I have come to realize that sometimes it’s just no use talking – or even defending your own beliefs. There will always be naysayers, folks with an agenda, and those who want to believe the worst. I have learned to follow my heart and shut up when I perceive it won’t matter what I say or how many facts I present to some people. They will believe what they want to. Meanwhile, I will continue to try to be an example and to enjoy beef and other meat, and know that most folks that raise livestock and other food, do the right (and healthy) things, and I will thank God we have people still wanting to be in agriculture. Have a great day!

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  6. Reblogged this on iSimpleTypeApp News and Support.

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  7. Ryan, Your approach can be done in many circles and in many ways. Great tips and keep up the good work.

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  8. Ryan, I haven’t commented on you in a while :). Great post and applicable to every human disagreement or issue. I so appreciate that you provide information, but are also willing to consider that things, in some circumstances, may need to be done better. I hate that we seem to be such a divisive society now: right versus left, “fringe group animal activist” versus “abusive ag industry types.” When did we get that way? It’s sad and discouraging in some ways from either “side.”

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  9. I especially like #8 assuming the fringe is the general public. Often the fringe will hang themselves in the eyes of the general public so instead of arguing with them, feed them rope.

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  10. Ryan,
    very well said. Advice I will take to heart in my blogging and speaking

    Like

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  1. Lessons Learned Through Agricultural Conversations | Boiler Ag. Talk

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