I Choose Grace

May 17, 2018

We all come from a different place where this topic is concerned because we all have had our own experiences. What I want to do is bring light to a difficult topic and show how a different perspective, the actions that you choose to take, and the course that you follow in your life all combine to help pave the way and make things better for all who will come after you.

Take a moment and breathe. I am about to scratch the surface of a very big topic in a relatively short article, but I feel like we have to start somewhere. It will spark emotions that might be extremely raw and that most of you will be able to identify with at some level… but this is good, open communication. I hope my thoughts will be helpful as we move forward.

Recently I listened to someone describe a situation in which she was ignored by an ag industry professional who paid attention only to her brother during a farm meeting.

Sound familiar?  

Or this one is very common in agriculture: The doorbell rings and the person on the other side asks to speak to your husband, or your father, “the farmer.” When they realize that “the farmer” is you, the conversation plummets, and you are left looking at their back as they get back in the truck to leave.

And, for me personally, I will never forget the first time I walked into a milkhouse where I was greeted not only by the farmer himself but also by all of his pin-up girls too. Let’s just say I wanted to rip down every last one of them and stomp off the property and never go back. But I didn’t. In the end, I think that the man ended up more embarrassed than me actually — and I am pretty sure the posters came down once he realized there was a female nutritionist in town.

So what do you do? How do you handle these awkward, extremely infuriating situations that remind you of just how far we still have to go to feel appreciated in the same light as our male counterparts?

First, let’s start with perspective. I want to give you a little advice that may help you understand how things might look from the other side.

I can speak from my past, back to my days in the trenches with Monsanto as a 21-year-old summer intern, and then from my experiences as a dairy nutritionist: whether you are male or female, when you walk on to a farm trying to sell something or “educate,” your primary goal is to find the person who is the decision-maker as fast as you can. Am I right, fellow salespeople?

More often than not, and I am totally throwing myself under the bus here, I, too, looked first for the male farmer. Granted, it was 20 years ago and stereotypes were still very solidly in place, but I am guilty — and I am a woman! But it’s how the world was at the time; it was really all that any of us knew. I am very thankful that the women in charge (and there weren’t nearly as many as there are today) whom I spoke with gave me a second chance and helped me understand their very important, decision-making role on the farm. I quickly learned to never assume. And I appreciate those women for opening my eyes, way back then, when I was learning.

The other piece of perspective to know is that the salesperson or industry leader is busy covering up his or her own insecurities too. It takes a lot of guts to walk onto someone’s farm while trying to read the lay of the land as fast as possible, hoping you don’t make a wrong move and come up empty-handed. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot to process all at once. In addition, you are also trying to be aware of the farmer’s valuable time. Sometimes all you want is a date when you can come back, but you may appear rather abrupt if your arrival falls on the wrong person.

And the last piece of perspective I want to present to you is the consideration of shyness. Shyness most often in adults comes across as being aloof or rude. I grew up in a family of girls, and it was a struggle for me to look a boy my own age in the eye when I was younger because I was so shy. Although I have grown and changed over the years, and have been blessed with 3 boys of my own, there are days still when the right situation will come along and my shyness kicks right back in. Hard to believe, right? We tend to think of men, in particular, as confident creatures — another stereotype! But men, too, can be nervous in certain situations. What they gravitate to is what they know, and that might just be the other men in the room. And, although we are feeling slighted and perceiving them to be rude and chauvinistic, it could be just their shyness and insecurity that we are misreading.

By no means are the previous paragraphs meant to let anyone off the hook. I only wanted to help give you some background, food for thought, perspective, that might help you overcome your initial feelings of anger or frustration in certain arenas. Once you acknowledge what might be going on in the perceived “enemy’s” head, you can better figure out what to do with his or her actions and what will be the best way for you to react that will get you the response and respect that you are looking for.

My answer to all of this is for you to teach and make change through your grace.

One thing I have learned in my 43 years is that you can’t change people, you can only change yourself. Miraculously, once you make a shift within yourself (which might be to slightly tweak your own reactions), you will start getting a different response from those around you… the cause-and-effect theory.

Although appropriate in very few situations, stomping out of a meeting, slamming a door in someone’s face, or being terse and short with a stranger, will not gain you the respect you would like to receive. In fact, it more than likely will give you the opposite: less respect. Instead, the guilty party will leave, head-scratching, wondering ‘what the heck is up with her’ and will have a tendency to slap more stereotypes on to you and the situation.

Choose grace instead… it will serve you better.

I think it’s important to assess where your deep-seated feelings of frustration are coming from. This is a hard one, but I encourage you to step back and ask yourself if you are being over sensitive; are you always looking to be slighted? It’s hard for me to say that too loudly, as a woman who has felt it, I know it’s real. But I have to ask the question of you so you can ask it of yourself. Whether you are male or female, we all have our hot buttons where sensitivity tends to over-rule. Is this yours? What can you do to get it back in check?

I would also like you to ask yourself two other questions. First, are you confident in your role on the farm? And second, are you comfortable with yourself and who you are?

If you were able to answer yes to both of those questions, then there should be no need to prove anything to anyone because that station is confirmed by you, from within, and by all those who you work with closely.

If your partners and co-workers have respect for you, and understand clearly your role, then they will be able to quickly deliver that message to anyone who walks onto your farm, without really needing to confront that person about it at all. It will be easy. A simple nod to the milking barn, or a point in the direction where the salesperson will find the decision maker, which is you. Or if you are in a meeting, the others will look to you for the answers, ask your opinion, or direct a visitor to you for conservation or a handshake.

On the other hand, if your answer was no to either of those questions, then it’s time to take a deeper look into your situation to try and understand why you answered no. And that just might be another whole column, or two or ten!

I have no training in psychology, only personal experience, and I share this with you because more often than not, I find the answers inside. But sometimes those answers have to do with the environment and the personalities that are around me and how I have allowed or created the continuously negative situation. I have learned that taking a step back to figure it out, rather than going on the attack, is usually the better option.

And definitely in those times when I don’t know whether I am up or down, I find that laughing and humor is the best way to diffuse those strong, negative emotions that creep up. In the type of situations that I am writing about here,you can choose to laugh for any number of reasons. You can laugh because some people are awfully slow learners and have failed to pick up on social cues in a  situation. You can laugh because he had a piece of salad stuck in his teeth while he was ignoring you, or that she said one too many um’s during the meeting. Whatever it may be, laugh at the absurdity and find humor, it works.

And then, what do you do, the day after? Well, you take charge. Instead of taking that energy and turning it into anger, choose patience, and show that you are in control, gracefully, with ego in check.

You send the email to recap the meeting, stating what the next courses of action are going to be. You set up an appointment to get the ball rolling, and, maybe, because it is your station, your decision, you leave your male partners at the farm and you work one-on-one with the industry professional, showing that you know and you will decide how it will be done. Making the point, clarifying the situation, but still with grace.

And if for some reason, this person refuses to come to you and work with you in a productive manner, then the choice becomes yours about whether you want to continue the association.

There is no need for drama at the end. A simple note or conversation indicating that your farm will not be able to work with that person because of his or her disregard for you is all you need. Message delivered. Clean. Respectable. Intentional. Well thought out. Graceful.

Change in action does not always come quickly with men and women who are still living under the old cloaks of stereotype. But every action we take, in a positive way, helps to pave a smoother path for generations to come. Every appropriate response helps someone else unbutton another button on that old cloak.

We all know that agriculture is not the only industry that deals with this problem, it’s everywhere. Slowly the tides are turning. Societal roles, norms, and traditions meant women were disregarded for centuries; it would be unrealistic to expect those deeply ingrained sentiments to change on a dime. But I do believe through our teaching, through our quietly intentional demand for respect, that we are righting the ship.

It is with great encouragement that I send you all the grace that you will need to be leaders as well as supporters, teachers as well as students. In the end, it will take all of us, men and women, to take small steps for a positive change.

I remind you, your days of these feelings are not over. Look at the broader picture, and look deep inside yourself. Your confidence will carry you through those times, and your vision will keep you moving forward… gracefully.