Tag Archives: communication

Telling your Extension story

Last week, we talked about your “Home Team” and the importance of having a connected team at the county level. We stressed meeting regularly for discussion and sharing about your work and issues of common importance. This week, I want to give you a local agenda item for your next (or perhaps, first) meeting.

Do you as a staff have at least three strong stories (at any point in time) that really explain the value that Michigan State University Extension brings to the local county? These stories should not just tell about a program and the number of people who attended it, but should reflect ongoing work within the community to address a particular issue or concern. How did research-based information make a difference? What role did MSU Extension play in facilitating a process of identifying the issue, bringing people together, gathering information and encouraging action? Can you document the impact? These stories may have been part of the county report the district coordinator shared or will share in the future, but they are also important to have handy as examples when talking with policymakers at the state and federal level, the media and more.

Identifying such stories should be a regular part of staff meetings. Update these stories frequently to keep them fresh, and be sure you can represent the entire Extension program portfolio from the county you are based in. Show commissioners in your county you are grateful for the base funding they provide MSU Extension for supporting your operating budgets, your space and more. They are very important partners to us! These are strategic connections we all need to make!

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Filed under Fall Extension Conference

Mind your (electronic) manners

We’ve discussed email etiquette in past Spotlights, but the information is important enough to repeat. Nowadays, this advice also applies to Facebook posts, blog responses, Twitter tweets, text messages and any other type of social media.

 Whenever you take part in any communication, do so as if everyone is going to read what you have written – because it’s possible they will. An email can be easily forwarded and often an email that was never meant to be forwarded will end up in a long string of emails. Stop and think before you send an email. Would this be better handled over the phone? Save sensitive issues for phone calls, or better yet, face-to-face conversations.

 Avoid sarcasm in an email or social media post. People may also wrongly interpret a joke as a serious statement.

 Be sensitive to others’ points of view. Avoid adding quotes after your signature that may offend. Remember that you represent a publicly funded university, and all communications must be politically and socially neutral. That includes your signature lines.

 When responding to a string of emails that may be five or six – or even more – emails long, it’s helpful to delete the quote or any extraneous information under the signature.

 Check the names of all of the recipients on the email. Think before you hit “reply all.” Is it necessary for all of these people to hear your answer?

 Avoid writing in all capital letters. It’s often perceived as yelling. Check spelling and grammar.

 Though the smartphone is a common and convenient method of communication, it can create its own communication problems. Smartphone users should take special care to check their spelling before sending a message. Those of us who are sending emails to smartphone users – and that is most likely all of us – need to be aware that smartphone users may only see the first part of our email. It’s helpful to give a heads-up in the first line of our message such as “There are five points in this email that I’d like you to address” or “Please answer the two questions in this email.”

 Your MSU email address is legally official university communications. And since we are representing Michigan State University Extension, we want to present ourselves in a professional light. Read over your emails before you send them. Make sure that what you’ve said reflects positively on our organization. Many individuals have a separate email account from a private provider that they can use for voicing their personal opinions with friends, family and decision makers. I encourage you to make full use of the Internet for personal and professional expression. Just remember to communicate as a professional when your communications are a part of your work and to communicate as you wish to present yourself personally when you’re off the clock.

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Filed under professional development

Workshops teach proper methods of safe cattle handling, communication

Recently retired Michigan State University Extension dairy educator and veterinarian Ben Bartlett has been providing expertise to producers for years. He used that expertise recently when he teamed up with MSUE specialist and Hispanic Farmer Program director Juan Marinez to put on a series of workshops.

 Communicating with your employees can often be complicated and fraught with misunderstanding. This can be further complicated when English is not their primary language. The MSUE duo combined their skills and knowledge – Ben in cattle handling and Juan in translating – to present workshops on low-stress cattle handling techniques to 22 Spanish-speaking employees of Green Meadows Farms in Ovid.

Juan Marinez and Ben Bartlett teach cattle handling techniques.

Retired MSUE dairy educator Ben Bartlett (right) provides the expertise while MSUE specialist Juan Marinez (left) provides the translation during a workshop on low stress cattle handling techniques for 22 Spanish-speaking employees of Green Meadows Farms in Ovid. Photo by Steve Evans, ANR Communications.

Using low-stress cattle handling techniques increases farm efficiency, profitability and most importantly, safety.

Introduced at workshops as the Cow Whisperer, Ben tries to get his audience to learn to “speak cow.” Proper body language is essential in people-to-cow communication. Ben knows that for safety’s sake, it’s important for cattle handlers to understand how cows see. For example, they can’t see the floor in front of them as people can. This makes cows very cautious about moving in a space that they are unfamiliar with. And this can make the environment that cows move in unsafe if handlers don’t know the proper way of relating to cows.

 Additionally, cows think of humans as predators and themselves as the prey. If the handler gets too close to the cow it will feel uncomfortable and flee. Keeping out of the cows’ “flight zone” will enable the handler to move the cattle without harassing them. This makes the job easier for both human and cow.

 And people-to-people communication is important as well. With Juan as translator, Ben was able to get his points across despite the language barrier.

 According to Juan, in Michigan today, 55 percent of dairy farm employees are Latinos. Although many come from rural backgrounds, they may not have livestock work experience, and if they do, their experience does not equate to the farming practices, traditions and technology that we are familiar with in the U.S.

 “If we in land-grant want to make an impact, we need to be inclusive of this workforce and bring them up to date on a regular basis,” said Juan.

 This workshop is just one example of many educational efforts to reach the expanding Latino agricultural workforce.

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Filed under Agriculture

Social media guidelines to be unveiled at FEC

I continue to notice that more and more of our staff members are embracing social media. Though I am not a tweeter, I appreciate those of you who use Twitter on behalf of MSU Extension. And I really enjoy reading your facebook updates—especially the ones that refer to MSUE programming.

Recently, several people have been asking about how to use social media for the greater good of MSU Extension. One of the challenges is how to appropriately mix reference to your personal life and your professional life when using social media. You’ll find some good examples among your colleagues who have “friended” me. Rule No. 1: use common sense. By all means, jump on the social media bandwagon, and remember that you’re also a representative of MSU Extension.

During Fall Extension Conference in October, our communications staff members will introduce some more guidelines for using social media as it relates to MSUE. If you’re interested in learning more about this, be sure to sign up for “Social Media is NOT a Social Disease” when you register for FEC.

In the meantime, please help us out by adding your own thoughts about SM guidelines in the comment section below.


Filed under Conferences, Fall Extension Conference