Are we really listening to our customers? When we hear about a situation that paints agriculture or farming in a poor light, our first reaction is to defend. (I have done this in the past, but now question the effectiveness of my efforts.) I propose we start conversations with those now removed from food production. This means we in agriculture must JUMP (not step!) outside our comfort zone… to be in the right place at the right time to have meaningful two-way conversations. For me, this has occurred at:
- kids sporting events sitting on the bleachers talking to other parents
- book clubs
- airplane and bus rides
- non-farming neighbors
- Sustain Jefferson meetings and movie night (King Corn was featured)
- Rock River Coalition annual meeting
- Town and Country Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) events
- Chamber of Commerce events and committee meetings
I feel there is a lot of “middle ground” where we can agree on things. We may never agree with all perspectives of our customers but we can shed light on some areas where they have questions.
Sometimes multiple misinformation overlaps so it appears that all in food production is “BAD.” We have the knowledge and the passion to ally some fears and present our own personal stories. Here are some tips to help keep the conversation going:
- Keep asking “why?”
- Where did you see/read/hear this?
- Tell me more… (then let them talk)
- I have not heard that before; can you explain further?
- That’s most interesting to me… (then let them talk more)
Try to gently probe and get to the ROOT of their concern or belief. Let them share their thoughts, then select one or two key points you feel most qualified to offer a viewpoint on. When in doubt, one of my often used phrases is “I can’t speak to that but I DO know that on our farm…”
Then go on to give one example of a situation where you care for land and animals, perhaps weaving in some family history. Explain it in language 1st or 2nd graders would understand. The more simplistic the better! Be sure to draw some parallels with things they know about, such as “we give our calves vaccines to keep them healthy, just as you got vaccines from the doctor when you were a baby.”
It’s always good to illustrate that we work with other professionals, such as veterinarians, nutritionists, milk quality specialists, genetic advisors, etc. making decisions in the best interest of our animal (soft selling science).
We don’t allow visitors into our calf barn and I explain it this way: You can pass germs onto the calves that might make them sick and they could do the same to you, so we ask that you observe our calves from this end of the barn. This has made a big impact on past visitors (noted in thank you letters) and they are very understanding.
As parents, we try to listen better. As friends, we try to listen better. As employers, we try to listen better. And as farmers interacting with the public, listening is a skill we need to practice more often. Listen. Really listen. Then share your story from the heart. Repeat as needed.
Books/Websites that may inspire you: