Editor's Notebook: "Before I Do Anything, I Listen."

March 4, 2017 02:03 AM
Editor's Notebook: "Before I Do Anything, I Listen."

You know people who’ve never met a stranger? Who treat every conversation as a chance to get to know the other? Not in a rude way, but with the same warm spirit you feel from a friend? That’s Donna Moenning. 

Donna is a trained communicator and Minnesota farmer, wife and mother. Based from her family’s crop and livestock operation, she works for the Center for Food Integrity helping companies win consumer trust in ag.

Her years in the trenches make Donna a veteran of the national debate on farming. If mean words and accusations were arrows, she’d have scars. 

But what’s special about Donna is she comes across as the opposite of a battle-hardened warrior for her cause. And that’s the secret to her success.

For example, how does she respond to accusations and loaded questions about ag? I’ll never forget her answer: “Before I say anything, I listen.

“I say, ‘I haven’t heard that question before. Tell me more about that.’” She sounded eager but not aggressive, interested but not interrogating. “We need to understand why the issue is important to people. A conversation about gluten, for example, becomes very different when you realize the family is coping with celiac disease.”

Establishing shared values is more important than just communicating facts when you’re trying to build trust, Donna explained. How does it work? Just lead with your heart. 

Donna told me of an accusatory email she once received from a student looking for facts on veal. Did she tear him apart with sound science? No. 

“I asked what he’s studying, and said I have a daughter in college and know it’s an exciting time,” she said. 

Then she shared information in the same easy, conversational tone. A few emails later, the student marveled at how “information” online can so badly misrepresent agriculture. After all, it sure did misrepresent Donna.

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