The first few words we communicate with another person are critical in the development of our future relationship with that person. The same is true when we, as activists, speak out for the voiceless with our message of compassion.
As animal advocates, we want to encourage people to start to think in new ways about their food and to be receptive to learning about the realities of animal agriculture. We must offer information in a way that doesn’t shut them off from us. The first stage of communication as activists is fragile. This applies both to on-the-ground outreach and online outreach. It’s worth spending some time honing your skills in effective communication.
Consider implementing some of the following tactics in your advocacy work:
- Refer back to how you felt in your first conversations about animals used as food. When you were first learning out about the realities of the animal agriculture industry, you, no doubt, experienced a whirlwind of emotions. Try to remember how you felt and reacted at the time. Speaking with heartfelt empathy establishes a level ground and an understanding between you and the other person.
- Avoid creating an “us vs. them” scenario. Passion for the cause can make it difficult for us to suppress our anger and frustration, but when we represent the movement, we should keep the animals foremost in our thoughts and remind ourselves that a calm and rational approach is likely to gain more ground than confrontation.
- Use language that is understandable by the majority. Although academic language has its place when discussing an issue in depth, most of the time it’s best to stick with everyday language. Speaking naturally and conversationally helps ensure that our message will be understood.
- Focus on drawing people into discussion and understanding, rather than presenting an all-or-nothing scenario. A strident or insistent approach is likely to alienate someone who is new to animal issues and may even shut them off entirely. Many people are receptive to considering a vegan lifestyle after a single informative conversation, so don’t scare them off before you’ve had a chance to find out if they are! Those who aren’t quite ready to make that step may still be open to taking the first steps — and each step matters.
- Note that it’s perfectly okay to recognize the concerns of non-vegans – in fact, it usually helps to be understanding. Showing empathy for their concerns often helps open their minds to alternatives that will enable them to still make a difference.
- The basics! Be positive, make eye contact; don’t just speak — listen.
Remember that animals rely on animal advocates. Don’t let ego, pride, or irritation get in the way when communicating your message. Help those who want to learn more feel comfortable doing so. The realities for animals are harsh. We need to take care of one another along the way as we discover and communicate these truths.
Change of Heart by Nick Cooney (Director of Education at Mercy For Animals and Founder of Humane League) is worth checking out if you want to delve into the psychology behind human behavior and the dynamics of communicating our message as activists. You can read a selection of excerpts from his book here.
We would love to hear useful tips from your own outreach experiences. Please share them with us in the comments section below.
Latest Vegan News (2015) Psychology Researcher Offers Tips for Positive, Effective Vegan Advocacy. [Online] Available from: http://latestvegannews.com/psychology-researcher-offers-tips-for-positive-effective-vegan-advocacy/#
The Humane League (no date) Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change. [Online] Available from: http://www.thehumaneleague.com/changeofheart/excerpts.htm