“Change isn’t optional. Change comes to us, no matter how much we resist. Sometimes we chase it. Sometimes we avoid it. But it still comes. That is the nature of life.” -Lee H. Baucom
As agriculture professionals, making recommendations to farmers and then to have those recommend adopted and implemented by our farm families is a difficult task because change is involved. Farmers are not ready for change until they find within themselves the desire, ability, reason, and need to change.
Decision making in times of change can be challenging for many individuals because of emotions, uncertainty, ambivalence, loss of value or identity, and/or adaptability. And in a time of constant change, farmers are faced with many tough decisions. As agriculture service providers, we can provide much-needed support and guidance for our farm families; however, many feel uncomfortable or lack the “soft skills” to support their farm families. To help Extension educators feel more confident in their listening and communication skills, Extension Fond du Lac County Dairy & Livestock Agent Tina Kohlman and Washington County Agriculture Educator Stephanie Plaster were invited speakers for the 2019 National Association of County Agriculture Agents Annual (NACAA) Professional Improvement Conference (PIC) to present two 30-minute sessions “Communication Tool for Moving Farm Families Forward: Utilizing the Motivational Interviewing Process to Motivate Change”. The purpose of the program was to share in Administrative Leadership and Career Development professional development sessions what Motivational Interviewing is and how it could be used to help better communicate with farm families in need of change.
Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change. It is designed for a consultant or service provider to explore individuals’ own reasons for change and guide the conversation to help them strengthen their personal motivation and commitment to change with a plan. It is for the person helping the individual to “not fix the problem” but to use listening and communication skills to help them acknowledge and articulate the need and motivation for change, providing ownership of their decision. Skills taught included:
- Active listening (exploring with open-ended questions, affirming past and current acknowledgments and successes, reflective listening, and summarize)
- Listening and recognizing the farmers’ ambivalence and “sustain” and “change” talk, and responding in a manner to help the farmer move from sustain to change.
- Planning and implementation of change
Based on post-session evaluations, respondents (n=15) indicated an average 4.3 point knowledge gained (on a five-point scale). As a result of the session, respondents indicated:
- Implement better listening skills
- List goals, get on paper
- Apply this to financial literacy education the individual teaches
- Look [listen] for DARN statements in conversations
- Recite open-ended questions
- Prepare staff for possible situations and coach them through situation
- EARS (explore, affirm, reflect, summarize)
- Great idea and want to learn more in order to help my farmers
- Excellent! Thank you for coming!
- Good content, needed more in extension
This presentation was part of the work and outreach Kohlman and Plaster have done throughout the past year for ag professionals and educators in helping them strengthen their communication and listening skills. Nine different presentations have been given within a year’s time helping our ag professionals in supporting farmers during challenging times.