Georgia Bamber suggests some top tips to help communication and avoid confrontation.
It’s funny. Before I went vegan, I rarely had conversations with anyone about my diet, and certainly nobody ever asked me about it. Other than perhaps sharing a few recipes or restaurant tips, it wasn’t really up for discussion. Nobody cared what I ate and I didn’t care to share.
That all changed as soon as I went vegan. Now pretty much everyone I meet asks me about my diet. Daily, I find myself in conversations, sometimes with complete strangers, about the ins and outs of what I eat and why I eat it.
Vegan conversations come up a lot. People notice I am not eating animal products and they ask why. Also, I have to admit, I do have a tendency to drop my veganism casually into conversation when I meet new people. As the old joke goes, “How can you tell if somebody is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
I know I am not alone in this. We vegans seem to have this strange compulsion to let other people know that we are vegan. I guess it is because once your eyes have been opened to the realities and consequences of eating meat and dairy, it is hard to sit back and watch the rest of the world carry on with business as usual. It feels almost impossible not to speak out.
The net result is that most vegans end up having a lot of conversations about why they are vegan. This is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing. The benefits of veganism are so enormous that it would be a crime not to share them, right?
The only problem is that not all of these plant-powered conversations go well. A lot of people don’t want to hear the facts, they don’t want to hear about what you know. They can get defensive, arguments can brew and erupt, and friendships and even partnerships can be broken.
Over the years, vegans have got a bad rap for being outspoken, intrusive, even rude. We are a passionate bunch and often-times I think we get so caught up in our emotions and the need to right the world that the subtle art of communication flies out the window.
If you want to share the vegan message effectively, and if you want to be able to live in greater harmony with non-vegans, you need to learn how to communicate well. It will save a lot of hassle and heartache and make it much more likely that people will be receptive to what you have to say.
Here are a few tips to help you fine tune your communication skills and talk with confidence and understanding.
In life, timing is everything, and the same holds true for having a constructive conversation. The golden rule for most vegans is not to talk about being vegan while people are eating. Nobody likes to hear negative things about their food. It puts their defences on high alert and will never lead to a successful conversation. Of course your choice to be vegan almost inevitably comes up whenever you are ordering or eating, and so do questions about those choices. A great way to get around this little conundrum is to say something like “I’d love to talk about this with you, but you probably don’t want to hear about it while you are eating, so ask me again after the meal.”
Also, try not to be the one who instigates the ‘vegan’ conversation. Let it come up naturally or wait until you are asked a question. People react so much better when they are the ones who brought the topic up.
Know your audience
When having a conversation, but especially about something as potentially contentious as veganism, it is important to adapt your message to the audience. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a minute. Have a think about how they see you and how they hear your message. Are you speaking to them in a way that will be well received? Would you like to be spoken to that way?
And always remember that you are not your audience. Whoever you are speaking to will have different perspectives and values to you. When you are aware of these differences you are much more likely to have a productive conversation. For example, if someone is interested in hearing about the health benefits of veganism, don’t talk to them about animal rights. It is not what they want to hear. Tailor your conversation to the person.
Conversations, not lectures
Nobody likes being told what to do. Nobody likes to be spouted at, or railroaded. Have a conversation with people, don’t lecture them. Be friendly and personable, listen and ask questions. In essence, converse, don’t monologue (or rant).
Unless you were born to vegan parents and raised from day one as a vegan, there was a time in your life when you ate animal products. When we get caught up in trying to spread the plant-powered message, sometimes we forget that we once stood in the meat eater’s shoes.
When you get frustrated or angry that someone isn’t listening to you or hearing your opinions, cast your mind back to your pre-vegan days. How did you feel about the vegan message? What made you change your mind? How long did the journey take? This might help you tap into your empathetic feelings and help you communicate in a more understanding and effective way. A great way to connect with people is to share your own story. Tell them about your journey to going vegan.
Let the food do the talking
We all know vegan food is delicious. So why not let your food do the talking? When people experience first hand how good vegan food can be, the lifestyle seems much more possible and defences drop. It’s hard to argue when you are chowing down on a super tasty, guilt-free veggie burger, or tucking into some double choc almond milk ice-cream. If you have friends you would like to introduce to the vegan message, try taking them to a vegan restaurant or invite them over for a fabulous vegan meal. Wow them with vegan cuisine and it just might pique their interest.
If none of these tips are working and you find yourself in a hostile conversation, probably the greatest skill is to know when to walk away. Some people don’t want to listen and never will. Don’t waste your breath or energy. There are plenty of people who will be interested and appreciate what you have to share. Focus your attention there.
Georgia is a success coach, helping people to reach their goals. With a background in psychology, coaching and plant-based nutrition, she has the perfect blend of skills to help people successfully embrace a vegan lifestyle. To find out more, visit www.successfullyvegan.com.