Vegans – Masters of Social Influence?

As someone married to a vegan, I’m lucky to have a front row seat to frequent conversations about her lifestyle and the always required saving of face between differing parties.

Interestingly, a researcher at Central CT State University in 2012 studied how vegans (and vegetarians) handle these exact situations with the goal of identifying the face saving tactics used when influencing others.

According to the study, there are four common ways vegans influence others in a face friendly way:

  • Avoiding confrontation 
  • Choosing appropriate timing
  • Selecting their arguments 
  • Leading by example

Avoiding confrontation

Vegans in the study have learned that overt attempts at persuading meat eaters can be frustrating because of the tendency of others to be defensive and prepared with well worn rebuttals leading nowhere:

My participants claim that these types of confrontations are not only annoying and a waste of time, they’re designed to dismiss and invalidate the…arguments. Thus, the vegan or vegetarian must remain neutral or change the conversation in order to control the scenario and “save face”’

This pragmatic ‘choose your battles’ approach reminds me of one of one of my favorite John Maxwell quotes: “You cannot antagonize people and influence them at the same time.” Since I have also experienced this to be true, I believe vegans are smart to adopt this mentality.

Appropriate timing

Vegans in the study approach timing in two ways: empathy and opportunity

For example, one participant mentions purposely waiting until someone is finished eating to have a debate or discussion about their meal. This rightly shows empathy by thinking about the other person first and asking if now is the ideal time to deliver the message. 

Opportunity, on the other hand, involves being nimble and flexible to seize the moment. Here, participants mention waiting for someone to curiously approach them or ask a question before attempting any type of influence. It is after this point that they will more than happily engage. (My wife also favors this approach.)

By combining empathy and opportunity vegans make sure they are striking while the iron is the right type of hot.

Choosing their arguments

Vegans in the study prefer focusing on the health benefits of their lifestyle when trying to persuade, versus the morality of eating animals or the effects of animal based diets on the environment.

They have found that removing the highly subjective ‘right and wrong’ and replacing it with the universal desire to be healthy and live longer provokes less resistance, enabling them to seize important early victories.

Of course, who doesn’t want a statistically lower chance of heart disease, alzhemiers, or pancreatic cancer?

Exactly.

Leading by example

Lastly, the vegans in the study have learned that leading by example busts common stereotypes and creates high credibility in a face friendly way.

Why? 

Because when you lead by example you get to show instead of tell. You get to replace “here’s what you should do and here’s why…”, with “here’s what has worked well for me and here’s why…”

This is the greatest token in social influence because while everyone can argue opinions, nobody can negate personal experience. And when no one is wrong, everyone saves face.

If still not convinced that we can learn a great deal from face friendly vegans I would like to offer the following examples, one macro and one micro.

Macro:

In 2012, when the above study was completed, vegans represented roughly 1.5% of the US population. 

Today, midway through 2019, the number of people who identifying as vegan and vegetarian is exploding, including a reported quarter of millennial consumers.

Further, most major food brands have begun offering plant based meat alternatives, revenues of plant based protein are expected to rise towards $100 Billion over the next decade, and stock prices of the first public plant based company have skyrocketed above $200 since their IPO.

Micro:

About two years ago I personally decided to give up red meat. This was for a variety of reasons, including wanting to show solidarity with my wife after she first became a vegetarian before becoming a vegan.

I now sometimes go multiple days without eating any animal meat; breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Most alarmingly, I recently declared I will most likely become a full fledged vegan within the next 10 years.

Conclusion:

I think we can learn from vegans…

What about you?

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