Have you ever found yourself in a group discussion, and everyone seems to be in agreement except you? Have you ever remained silent, even though it made you feel uncomfortable to go along with the group? Most people have been in this situation at one time or another.
When individuals assemble in groups, profound changes can take place. It’s as if the group casts a spell over the individuals who comprise it. By formulating a “group” mentality, it’s easier for individuals to support the group’s preset negative opinion.
Research backs up this philosophy. The textbook, “Psychology,” by Saul Kassen, states, “When people have the ability and motivation to think critically about the contents of a message, they take the central route to persuasion. In these instances, people are influenced by the strength and quality of the arguments.
“When people do not have the ability or motivation to pay close attention to the issues, however, they take mental shortcuts along the peripheral route to persuasion. In this case, people may be influenced by a speaker’s appearance, slogans, one-liners, emotions, audience reactions, and other superficial cues.”
A charismatic, persuasive individual can influence a group, whether or not he or she has a good grasp of the facts. Often, they use their skills to convince unknowing consumers of their point of view by providing alternative truths, like some in the animal rights movement. Their own agenda keeps them from being honest and objective.
It’s unlikely you’ll win an argument – or even have a meaningful conversation – with these folks. But the people who crave honest information – the “moveable middle” – need to hear from farmers.
What You Can Do
It takes courage to provide an alternative view in these situations. It also takes a certain amount of understanding and expertise to communicate in a way that’s engaging and welcomes dialogue. Show you respect their opinion, and ask questions to find out why they feel the way they do. In other words, show you care about what they’re saying. By doing so, you build a foundation of trust. Your opinion will matter to others when they know their opinion matters to you.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care."
It’s an important starting point in your conversations about food and agriculture.