As someone who works at Monsanto, I agree that we have not done a good job talking to society about agriculture and our business – about who we are and what we do. That’s unfortunate because no one knows who we are better than the people who work here. We can be great sources for credible information about our company and the science – especially for friends and family.
Sometimes people are reluctant to talk about their work because those conversations are occasionally difficult – sometimes because the person you’re talking to has strong emotional opinions and sometimes because the person has questions and you just don’t know the answer. I don’t believe either of these concerns should stop us from engaging in conversations though, and following is the guidance I give to my colleagues who ask:
- Listen first and ask questions to better understand why someone may have a question or concern. Find out where they learned about the topic. Be respectful of their opinions and especially the emotions behind their viewpoints. Always approach the conversation thoughtfully, and avoid the inclination to “defend” the company, the technology, or your point-of-view.
- Share your personal perspective – which means there are no “good talking points” to remember. Simply share your own story or experience, and be truthful and transparent. Talk about the important work you are doing. Share how you are helping tackle some of the big challenges facing agriculture. And think about the questions you can expect to get … for example, why are you confident in the safety of GMOs? Maybe it’s because you are one of the scientists conducting safety studies; or because you are a sales person but have talked with scientists conducting the studies; or because you work in IT but see your colleagues (including scientists and the executive team) buying GMO sweet corn for their friends and families at on-campus farmer markets. There isn’t a correct answer to that question – just share your personal perspective.
- Be comfortable that you will not know the answer to every question – and prepare for that ahead of time too. What resources do you consider credible on different topics? You should never have to guess or say things you are not sure are true. That’s exactly what resources like GMO Answers are for (and it’s the resource that I recommend most often in my personal and professional conversations)!
- Only engage in conversations with people who treat you respectfully – which means sometimes you may choose not to engage at all and sometimes you may need to excuse yourself from a conversation, both in person and in social media. It is entirely up to you where you feel comfortable engaging.