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Lessons from a Conversation Gone Wrong

One of the most rewarding moments for a teacher or trainer is seeing the lightbulb go off. That “aha” moment when you know you’re getting through and the content is resonating. During a recent CFI Engage workshop where my colleague Donna Moenning and I spent a day with an eager and inquisitive group of participants from an agriculture products company, I was taken aback by one of those moments at the end of the day.

Over the Top

The goal of Engage training is to equip attendees with the tools and confidence to engage in conversations with a specific approach that earns trust.

Earlier, Donna and I demonstrated how not to have a conversation. She played the role of a consumer who declared she bought organic milk when she could afford it because of all the hormones and antibiotics in “regular” milk that she feared were unsafe for her kids.

I played the role of someone in ag who hopped right up on her high horse. I was defensive and dismissive. I routinely interrupted Donna to state my case. “Don’t you know cows given antibiotics are removed from the herd and can’t be milked until antibiotics are out of their system?” That “if any antibiotics are found in a tank of milk, they’re dumped?” “You’re being duped,” I said.

I was putting on a show – exaggerating to the point of being obnoxious to make a point (and to inject some humor). Frankly, I thought it was a bit much. But we all had a good chuckle – and the attendees got it. This was over the top.

True Confession

So, I was quite surprised at the end of the day when I asked if anyone wanted to share a key takeaway from the day – an “aha” moment.

One man, looking a bit sheepish, raised his hand.

“That bad role play earlier?”

“Yes?” I said.

“That’s exactly how I would have responded. And that sounded awful,” he confessed. “That’s what I do.”

It’s an “aha” I truly wasn’t expecting. My over-the-top acting hit home with someone who now understood that digging in our heels doesn’t work.

How gratifying to know that, by the end of our training, not only did he recognize himself in the example, but he understood why it was damaging and how to redirect his responses to avoid such abrasive confrontation.

An Awakening

I’ve conducted this training more times than I can count, and the aha moments abound. That makes for a rewarding day. One of so many I’ve been blessed to enjoy in this job.

Food and ag companies are wakening to the need for a different approach. Whether working on farms or for ag companies, people sense that there is a problem and are hungry for a solution.

The path is not difficult, it simply requires a willingness to listen – not with the intent to respond, but with the intent to truly understand different perspectives. And then to engage in a non-threatening way that reinforces the values of those working in food and ag.

Some challenge the notion that effective engagement is the solution. Yet, those same people openly acknowledge that the food and ag sector has largely remained quiet while others – mostly critics – tell the food production story. So, the first step to changing that reality is effective engagement to tell your own story.

Ready for an aha moment? Give us a call.

Jana McGuire
Center for Food Integrity