Responding to negative comments with persuasionBy Lisa B. Pot
You can’t go wrong taking pictures of a Jersey calf. Doe eyes, delicate features, fawn-coloured hide and all the ‘ah’ factor baby animals elicit in humans.
But if you are a vegan on a mission to turn consumers off meat, such pictures are easy fodder for a negative campaign.
“When are you going to kill this baby,” was a comment I received on an Instagram I posted of a newborn Jersey calf.
It felt a bit like a slap in the face because the calf’s growth and potential were my focus, not her demise. A quick retort caused my fingers to twitch on the keyboard but I refrained. I have no wish to fight.
The haters are persistent. There has been a targetted campaign on Twitter by some members of the vegan community to vilify farmers tweeting their anecdotes and photographs of farm life under the #farm365 hashtag. It’s downright nasty from the vegan side but seems to have united farmers across the country as evident by a surge in positive posts.
I had just returned from Dairy Day at the Grey-Bruce Farmers' Week when I read the negative comment on my Jersey calf picture. I found myself wishing veganfortheanimal1 could have attended. She would have witnessed farmers who are committed to creating a healthy, comfortable environment for cattle to live longer, more productive lives.
Over two hours were dedicated solely to bedding. Farmers discussed whether sand, peat moss on rubber mats or composted manure was the ideal option. Cost factored in, as is logical in any business, but the primary focus of the three dairy farmers presenting was cow comfort.
It’s not likely that vegans would attend such an event. It’s geared toward farmers who happily ate roast beef and drank chocolate milk at lunch.
I felt at a loss how to respond to veganfortheanimal1. There were a few things I did want to say. First, of all, I respect her decision not to eat any product of animal origin. I’m so thankful to cooks who have elevated vegetables to haute cuisine and shared their recipes.
I’m not immune to her pain either. Animal death is hard to witness in nature and on the farm.
But farmers feed people and that’s something to celebrate. There’s no shame in the stewardly use of animal resources. So how do farmers respond to the negativity?
The easiest option is to avoid the fight and ignore the comment. However, I don’t advocate a fundamentalist dogma that labels farmers the enemy when we work hard to care for animals that feed so many people. There is a time to challenge false belief systems.
I came across an interesting blog by Don Schindler, a social media trainer for industries, who posted ‘How do you win an argument: In Three Steps.’ based on criteria by fellow blogger, John Carlton.
Schindler suggested these approaches.
Step 1: Never argue back when your goal is persuasion.
Most of us are hard-wired to defend our position and strike out when we feel threatened. We like the adrenaline rush. However, it can lead to rancor and missed opportunities when it denigrates to disrespect of other people’s life choices. Our approach is significantly modified when we choose persuasion.
Step 2: Define what ‘win’ means to you.
Schindler describes this as a “big boy, big girl” step where you replace instant reaction with pause. In that space, you take the time to question your motives and your purpose. If there is no larger goal, then step away; particularly in the social media world where you are arguing in front of an audience.
The goal in the Jersey calf situation isn’t to escalate the comment into a fight, denounce her decision to be a vegan or be a self-righteous farmer on a mission. My goal is to share with her, and everyone who sees my pictures on Instagram or Twitter, the pleasure and care responsible farmers take in their animals.
Step 3: Use “yes, and” to reframe for the win.
If you have decided to engage and respond to a comment, the goal is to disarm the anger and reframe the context.
“You ignore irrationality, and because you are so clear on your goal, you take your ego out of it. Use the old improv theatre tactic of never being negative yourself–say, ‘yes, AND...’ while moving things toward the discussion you actually want to have.”
Excellent advice for anyone who relates to people at work, in life and particularly via social media.
I simply responded to veganfortheanimal1 comment with this statement: “She’s going to grow up to live her potential as a milk cow, cared for all the way.”
I don’t suspect it will negate veganfortheanimal1’s negativity toward farmers but I feel a ‘win’ choosing to be positive and courteous.
It isn’t easy to remain composed when we feel unjustly attacked. We all have reactive emotions and negative comments often unleash the desire to argue, fight, win!
But in the face of negative campaigning, being ‘big boys and girls’ is a conscientious choice as we strive to be understood while focussing on excellent stewardship of the animals in our care.◊
Lisa B. Pot is editor of the Rural Voice and dairy farms in Huron County.