The carrot versus the stick.
Reward versus punishment.
Cajoling versus directing.
When it comes to the farm to consumer conversation, would we get better results by combining methods or putting more emphasis on one over the other?
What about a third option that doesn’t employ either carrot or stick?
The RESPECT model, developed by Yale psychologist Paul Marciano, is based on three tenets: “Empower your managers. Engage your team. Grow your company.” The model cultivates a culture of respect which is “a cornerstone of having a strong company culture that supports a thriving business,” he says.
Put in an agricultural context, cultivating a culture of respect on both sides of the equation – farmer for consumer, consumer for farmer – will help the industry remain viable and ensure that consumers feel listened to. It will help them make informed purchasing decisions and encourage them to maintain trust in Canada’s ag sector. We could say then, that the model will empower you, engage the team you rely on, your consumers, and grow your business and industry.
Let’s break it down:
R – Recognition: Recognize and acknowledge other people’s contributions. In this case, farmers should recognize and acknowledge consumers’ feelings, opinions and concerns about food and food production issues. As a key stakeholder in our food system, they need to feel that their concerns are legitimized and taken into consideration in order to establish a foundation of mutual trust. Consumers should recognize and acknowledge the critical importance of our food system as well as its indirect effects like contribution to the country’s GDP and how the ag sector helps support rural businesses and families.
E – Empowering: Making sure that consumers have access to balanced, impartial and science-backed information about agriculture and agri-food. This will empower them to make fact-based decisions as well as formulate contemplative questions so you can fill subsequent knowledge gaps.
S – Supportive feedback: Who likes receiving criticism after they’ve worked long hours and/or thrown all they’ve got into something? Conversely, who likes being told they don’t know anything about which they feel very deeply and for which they feel they’ve done extensive research to come up with valid assumptions? Whether a farmer, as in the former example, or a consumer, as in the latter, no one likes being made to feel stupid, small or taken for granted. Critical feedback should be given in a “respective and constructive, not destructive, manner,” says Marciano, if we want to cultivate respect and trust.
P – Partnering: Achieving a common goal – a successful food system that meets several needs – depends on developing a collaborative working relationship.
E – Expectations: Respect comes from a place where clear expectations are set, and people are held accountable. On the one hand (the farmer’s) this might take the form of corporate social responsibility, sustainability, or observing environmental standards. On the other (the consumer’s), this might look like speaking with real farmers to learn about the whys behind the things that they do and listening, learning and critically thinking about issues.
C – Consideration: Empathy. Thankfulness. Kindness. Each one required on each side of the farmer-consumer conversation. Empathy to really understand where the other is coming from and what they need to hear to fill knowledge gaps. Thankfulness for feeding me (consumer); thankfulness for trusting in me (farmer) and purchasing my products. Kindness – well, if we need to explain the benefits of this one, maybe you need to go back to Kindergarten.
T – Trust: Much has been written on generating and maintaining trust in the farmer-consumer relationship in the last several years. Marciano sums it up well saying, “Like respect, relationships don’t work without a base of trust…Nothing squashes initiative and enthusiasm like [distrust].” If each side of the farm to consumer conversation wants to feel heard, considered, and respected, we need to encourage farmers’ boundless energy, innovations and initiative. In turn, farmers need to encourage consumers’ enthusiasm to ask questions they might find silly or redundant so that their key audience can learn about food production.
Listening versus telling.
Engaging versus isolating.
Empathy versus frustration.
Dialogue versus monologue.
If you want mutual respect to be the outcome, choose wisely.