Listening: Communication’s Most Powerful Tool

I once read that if you want to remain ignorant about anything, just talk to or read things written by people who agree with you. Here at the AVMA, in my position in the Media Relations Department, I hear and read a lot from people with whom I disagree. And you know what? It makes me a better person. It makes me smarter. And it makes me do my job a whole lot better.

I recently attended the 2011 Food Summit, hosted by The Center for Food Integrity. It was full of people representing the livestock industry, all of whom proudly help feed millions of people here at home and abroad. One of the folks who spoke was Paul Shapiro, from the Humane Society of the United States. As he began his presentation on food-animal well-being, he joked that he probably didn’t have many friends in the crowd. But when he talked about why the HSUS believes that food animals deserve more protection than they currently get, he certainly had everyone’s attention. He also got people thinking about the common ground that can be reached between food producers and groups like his when it comes to animal care, housing and treatment.

One interesting observation was seeing audience members’ heads shake and eyebrows curl while he spoke, juxtaposed with the smiles and handshakes he received from these same people at a reception that followed his talk. It was a fascinating glimpse into human nature. And it showed – I’d like to think – how people can disagree but still respect one another, even when it comes to issues as controversial as animal welfare.

I left the food summit feeling informed and better educated. One statement I heard from a speaker who talked about risk communication really stuck with me. He said that people might have an open mind, but not an empty one, and that we all need to remember that when we’re trying to convey a message.

We all base our opinions on what we’ve experienced in life, what we’ve learned from teachers, acquaintances and colleagues, and what we value. But the important thing to remember is to keep our minds open – about everything. Yes, we should talk when we need to. But – most importantly – we also need to listen, especially to those whose opinions are different from our own. If we do, we’ll all be better off for it.

4 thoughts on “Listening: Communication’s Most Powerful Tool

  1. Still curious why AVMA would reject a simple, straightforward way to communicate with many additional members that is available immediately. Anyone listening?

  2. Very few veterinarians visit NOAH and that is unlikely to change in the short term. Thousands of AVMA members log onto VIN every single day. It would be technically easy to post information there if AVMA was truly interested in hearing feedback from its constituents. VIN has offered to help on multiple occasions. And it could also be a great way to spread the word about NOAH and get more veterinarians to join it as well. I just don’t understand how that is mot win-win for everyone.@Dr. Kimberly May

  3. Dr. Beismer, thanks for the suggestion. We anticipate that the new NOAH platform will serve that need well for us when it’s launched.

  4. Excellent article and good food for thought. I think many veterinarians are hoping for progress in the area of livestock welfare– such a very complex issue requiring LOTS of communication between parties.
    Along the lines of listening to those with whom we disagree, I will propose once again a very simple method by which AVMA could “listen” to its constituents. Why not cross post all AVMA@work stories into the AVMA folder on VIN to keep members informed and allow feedback in a private setting? The traffic on VIN is much higher than on the AVMA website, so AVMA leadership could hear many more of its members voices– when they agree and when they disagree.