Folks regularly approach our executives and ask us a very similar set of questions in hopes of doing a better job to reach rural people. We figured that it would be a good time to start a series describing a few helpful hints on how to have better conversations with people from a town without a stoplight. The first tip is easy. Folks have to trust you.
"You're not any better than me"
It’s an easy trap for some of us to fall into. It’s easy to see the facts of the destruction of rural life and draw a direct line to republicans’ policies that are causing them. You think to yourself “These people are voting against their self interest. I should tell them that”
The trouble with this mindset is that you are already setting yourself up for failure. It’s incredibly condescending, and patronizing. Most folks immediate response to “you vote against your best interest” will be either “You’re not any better than me.” or “I know why I vote.” No matter what their response, it’s going to be defensive, and you have broken any trust with that person. People anywhere are resistant to change. Especially if they don’t trust you.
That’s what we recommend that folks reset their mindset change their mindset to one of empathy, redirection and understanding before having any political discussions out in the county. Evidence shows that people are more likely to change their position if given the ability to excuse themselves for the wrong decision. You don’t need to tell them that they are wrong, you just need to help them get to the decision themselves.
"You're not from around here, are you?"
People incorrectly assume that rural areas are closed off and wary of strangers. Folks only usually say “you’re not from around here” if there has been a disconnect. The reason for this is pretty straightforward: either you didn’t know enough on the subject, or you didn’t earn the person’s trust along the way.
Take a little time to foster a connection with the person you are talking to. We all have universal needs/concerns. Appeal to those. Talk to people about how you are worried about the school having enough funds, about how you like to visit the parks with your kids, about how you want to see the community prosper. Then, shut up and listen when the person tells you what they’re worried about.
Show, don't tell.
Missouri is the Show-Me State and folks in rural Missouri are even more Show-Me than the rest. More importantly, most rural people pride themselves on telling when someone is just blowing smoke. Your goal here is to make sure that you demonstrate your values and stick to them. Show respect for differences, be gracious, but be firm when you have a strong belief. Folks will never want to listen to you if you can’t even listen to yourself.
If you want to truly work to change some hearts and minds, then you have to be ready to show some respect and earn some trust.
Holler at us if you have any questions or comments!