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One Conversation Mistake that Could Come Back to Haunt You


With so much skepticism and controversy surrounding agriculture and food today, consumer conversations can be downright scary.

“Why are farmers dousing their fields with pesticides?”
“I heard there’s a chemical in mac and cheese that causes cancer.”
“Are there antibiotics in my meat?”

It’s enough to make you turn and run in horror.

We applaud those who are brave enough to come out of the shadows to embrace the opportunity and engage, both in person and online. But there’s one conversation mistake that could come back to haunt you: not asking questions.

It’s human nature that when someone asks us a question or makes a comment about a topic we not only understand but are passionate about, we quickly resort to educating and setting the record straight. The more we talk, the more likely they’ll come to our side, right? It doesn’t quite work that way.

What if we stopped and asked questions first? Asking questions is the second of three steps detailed in The Center for Food Integrity’s Engage communications training program: Listen, Ask and Share.

Engage is based on the power of shared values, meaning you must first understand what’s important to the person across from you and find a connection on what you both value to move the conversation forward.  

It’s a proven approach. CFI’s trust model demonstrates that communicating with shared values is three-to-five times more important to earning trust than simply providing facts and demonstrating skills.

So, if we are doing all the talking and don’t take the time to ask questions, we may miss the mark. That’s why CFI asks questions of consumers each year in its trust research – to better understand them and what they value, and help those in agriculture and food engage in more meaningful ways.

It’s difficult to truly understand what the person across from us values and why they’re concerned about the topic at hand if we don’t dig for more information.

I often share the example of a woman who said she only shops “local.” One might assume she shops at area farmers markets or buys raw milk from a small dairy farm on the outskirts of town. But when asked what she meant by “local” she explained that she only shops at the large supermarket two blocks from her home.

Perhaps someone is concerned about chemicals in food and, by asking good questions, you discover that a family member is battling cancer. Or a father is complaining about odor from area livestock farms and you learn his son has severe allergies. A conversation about eliminating meat from the diet becomes very different when you’re told it’s simply a “texture thing.”

The person across from you simply wants to be heard and acknowledged and get credible information from a trusted source who shares their values. Asking question is a vital step in the process.

Next time you’re in a conversation about farming and food, don’t be afraid. Listen, ask and share. You may find the person across from you isn’t so scary after all.

If you’re interested in learning more about Engage in-person communications training and our new Engage Online self-paced modules, I’d be happy to chat! Connect with me at

Donna Moenning
CFI Engage Coordinator