Focus More on the "How" Than the "What" of Communication

When advocating veganism, is your goal to win a debate? If so, then it’s also to make the other person lose. When you focus on “process” over “content,” you reduce the risk of creating a win-lose scenario and increase the chances that your message will be heard as you intend it to be.

When you’re discussing veganism with a non-vegan, how often do you end up in an argument that leaves you feeling misunderstood and frustrated?

One of the reasons we can end feeling this way is because the focus of our communication is in the wrong place: it’s on the content, which is what we’re talking about, rather than the process, which is how we’re communicating. A simple shift from content to process can dramatically change our experience and our impact as vegan advocates.

The process determines how we feel, and therefore how receptive we are to the information (or content) that’s being shared. Just think about a conversation you had last week, or last year. Chances are, you don’t remember much of what you talked about—but you probably do remember how you felt in the conversation.

We can’t force someone to change, but we can communicate in a way that increases the chances they’ll be open to our ideas. We create this openness by making sure that the process of our communication is healthy.

In a healthy process, our goal is mutual understanding; it’s to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings. When we do our best to empathize with and not judge or invalidate the experience of the other person, we help create a sense of connection and safety—both of which are essential for people to be open to new ideas.

Even if we’re explicitly advocating veganism, such as when we’re working at an info stall at a VegFest, it’s unlikely that any facts we share will be convincing without a healthy process as our foundation.

In an unhealthy process, our goal is to be “right” or to “win” which means making the other person “wrong” or “lose.” Most people are highly defended against being wrong or losing and they also pick up on and resist any motivation to get them to change their opinion or behaviors.

The next time you’re advocating veganism (or talking about anything), instead of simply sharing facts and trying to change the other person’s opinion, try doing the following:

  • Listen openly to their thoughts and feelings about veganism.
  • Empathize with their experience talking with you, and you’ll be more likely to say and do things that help them feel connected and secure in the conversation.
  • Make it your goal to reach mutual understanding.
  • Accept that the other person may or may not change their opinion.

When our process is unhealthy, it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about; we’ll probably end up arguing. But when our process is healthy, we can talk about just about anything productively and be much more effective in our communication -- and, therefore, in our vegan advocacy.

We're very grateful to VegFund for supporting the production of these videos.