It must have taken Grain SA’s Jannie de Villiers some courage to tell a hall full of Free State grain producers: “Farmers need to be well-versed in English to take part in negotiations with government, and government officials don’t associate khaki clothing with farming and food production, but with war”. He might have upset a few sensitive, narrow-minded people, but he was absolutely right.
Too often farmers are seen as aggressive beer-bellied khaki-clad ‘Boers’ who refuse to acknowledge change.
What image do you project? People form their initial opinion of strangers within three seconds of setting eyes on them. So your image has a strong influence on the way others react or respond to you, especially if they don’t know you too well. But it goes much deeper than this. Psychologists will tell you that the way you dress and behave will affect your self-image. This, in turn, influences the way you think, feel, speak and act.
Successful people recognise that, when they project the right image, others regard them as confident, intelligent and competent. The right image opens doors, gives access to decision-makers, and will mean that they take what you say more seriously. I wonder how many of our farmers have ever considered the image they and their business project. For those with whom you have regular contact – employees, suppliers and so on – it’s not so important. They know you and will judge you on the way you behave.
With strangers it’s a different matter, though. For people with whom you have only occasional contact (such as representatives from local and national government), it’s a vital element in building a productive relationship. The fact is, in every contact you have with someone, you’re not only shaping the image they have of you personally, but of SA farmers in general.
This is why, as Farmer’s Weekly editor Alita van der Walt reminded us in a recent editorial, “anyone in the public eye has a certain image to convey and needs to spread messages which help form and maintain the image they wish to uphold” and this is simply too important a matter to be left to chance.
Grain SA ran a series of adverts on DSTV, SAFM and Talk 702 and De Villiers pointed out that these were partly aimed at the government officials the organisation deals with on an ongoing basis. “We want them not to see us as merely farmers, but as the providers of food for the nation,” he explained. Every farmer’s organisation and every commodity organisation needs to have this item on its agenda.
But what really counts is the image every farmer projects. Each of us has an obligation to make it easier for our leaders to win the hearts and minds of the public and the officials on whom the industry depends. As discussed over the past few weeks, we now have in our toolbox incredibly effective social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to send out positive messages and correct all the warped impressions that exist in the minds of the public.
Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Managing for profit’ in the subject line of your email.