Sometimes scientific research seems, well, unnecessary. Because sometimes the conclusion is so obvious we probably didn’t expect anyone to spend the time and money to do it. Such was the case with a recent study published in Nature Human Behavior. The researchers found that those most extremely opposed to biotechnology knew the least about it, even while they thought they knew the most.
Anyone hanging around online could’ve pointed that out, but at least we have some proof.
Here lies the conundrum: Those who most need to hear our message are the people least likely to even realize they don’t know everything about the topic. And how can you possibly convince someone of something when they think they know all about it?
It’s true that we simply won’t reach everyone. It isn’t possible. There will always be people on the fringes of any issue who refuse to listen to reason. Quite frankly, if someone still thinks Monsanto’s goals are to control the world’s food supply, and being bought out by Bayer was just a cover, there’s not much anyone can do to help that person.
Yet there are people concerned about biotechnology who haven’t gone totally bonkers. I’m not saying it’s always an easy conversation to have, especially when personal identity and values are involved. But we can try.
So how can we reach the most die-hard, true believers? Here are some suggestions:
This goes for every conversation you have with someone about agriculture. Or, really, anything where you want to persuade. You absolutely must establish a trustful relationship. Your subject should understand that your motives are genuine, that you share the same values and have the same concerns. Build the conversation on the common ground you share.
Understand the basics
There’s a saying that you don’t really know something until you’re able to teach it to someone else. It’s particularly poignant here. Before you try to convince someone you’re correct about biotechnology, it’s probably a good idea to understand the basics yourself. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to earn a graduate degree to have these conversations. But prepare yourself by reading articles, reviewing resources, and learning how to speak the lingo. You have to understand it if you want to talk about it.
Don’t lose your cool
I’ll be the first person to admit that remaining calm and not getting angry isn’t the easiest thing to do. For anyone closely connected to food production, these topics can be so personal. We’re kind of passionate about the plants and animals under our care. That’s a good thing. But don’t let it ruin your conversations with average consumers. Keep things in perspective: Their viewpoints aren’t likely personally directed at you. And yelling isn’t going to move the conversation forward or change their minds.
Don’t be overly critical
Many people suspicious about biotechnology likely feel their position is part of who they are. In other words, being anti-GMO is part of their larger identity. This can make it extremely difficult to get a foot in the door because the conversation becomes personal immediately. So be careful not to be too critical of the anti-GMO position. So don’t say things like, “That’s really ignorant,” or, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Instead say things like, “I understand why you’re worried about the food you eat,” or, “As a farmer, let me share the information I have on this topic.”
Recognize the overall goal
One conversation is unlikely to sway someone completely. So don’t use conversion as your end goal. Instead you should strive to open up a channel of communication. Plant a seed, if you will. Focus on having a conversation that builds a relationship, establishes trust, and allows for follow-up. Play a long-term game. Most people didn’t become anti-GMO overnight. And many of them won’t change their minds over one conversation either.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.