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Conversations: When Being Right Takes You Down the Wrong Path

March 7, 2022 | Articles

Dr. Cami Ryan, Social Sciences Lead, Regulatory Scientific Affairs, Bayer Crop Science

Our conversations about agriculture and food production frequently escalate into arguments at key moments — moments where we feel we have been aggrieved, mistreated or wronged.

We all agree that inaccurate information informs many people’s perspectives about agriculture and other things like science and public health. Misinformation can shape perceptions in damaging ways. It misrepresents our industries, our livelihoods, and – yes – our way of life.

That. Gets. Personal.

When things get “personal” — when we feel violated or wronged — things can quickly go off the path and in unexpected ways. We let go of any desire we may have to solve a problem or reach consensus, we lose whatever hold we have on good will or in building trust and we direct our attention on an entirely different goal: On being right! I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. And here’s the paradox: those we are arguing with believe they are right, too.

Here are the outcomes:

  • The minute we move into the ‘being right’ mindset, we lose the conversation.
  • When we try to impart our ‘rightness’ on others, we lose the relationship.

How do we avoid our very human nature to focus conversational wins and, rather, tend to the relationship first?

I was invited to the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) Convention in January to give a keynote at the Communicate, Connect, and Influence program hosted by the AFBF Promotion & Education Committee. I also led a couple of breakout sessions on this very topic: having those tough conversations. During the program, we all shared our experiences and our learnings.

First and foremost, we learned that a deliberative effort to let go of our feelings about being right helps to de-escalate emotions… especially our own!

Additionally, there are these other things to consider as we have these tough conversations:

  • Avoid leading with the facts. It’s best to lead with a narrative or personal anecdote. Remember: your story is the best story!
  • Actively listen. Ask yourself this: “Am I listening or am I re-loading?” A mentor of mine once used the very wise words “Be Present” in your conversations.
  • Ask questions… then ask more. This tactic helps you keep your emotions in check and really helps reduce tension in the conversation.
  • “I don’t know” may be the best three words to use… followed by these words: “But I will find out.”
  • Be accountable. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you share incorrect information, correct it. If you step out of line, acknowledge it. Apologize.
  • Be human, be vulnerable. As weird as it sounds, being vulnerable and accountable for your mistakes can be personally empowering. It reveals your humanity and gives you social license to continue to be human. Mistakes will happen. Engagement is and always will be an imperfect process.
  • Finally, it’s important to remember that it is a conversation, not a conversion.

What we continue to learn through the process of dialog is that changing hearts and minds can’t be our primary goal. Our conversations about agriculture should put relationships first.

It’s not about keeping score. No end zone, no goal posts. When we begin to look at these conversations as leisurely walks down country roads instead of games, that’s when the conversations become easier and more enduring, especially when we focus on who’s beside us on that road instead of what’s in front or behind us.

I like metaphors, so maybe another way to view these conversations is to picture them as opportunities to plant good quality seeds about food production and sustainability in authentic ways. The key thing is… we also need to continuously steward those exchanges and relationships into the future. Our lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Learn more about Communicate, Collaborate & Influence at the American Farm Bureau Convention.

Learn more about the AFBF Promotion & Education Program.

Questions about Farm Bureau or the Promotion & Education program? Contact

Click here to download Bayer’s ABC’s of productive conversations.