Use currency to reach people where they are

Tom Salzer
Tom Salzer

Anyone who has or had a teenager in the house will get this: if you couch your conversation in terms of what is important to them, it will have much more impact. What is important to them has weight. It has value. It is their currency.

When you speak in terms of what is important to you, they tune you out. When you speak in terms of what is important to them, they are more likely to hear you.

Let’s extend this concept to include interactions within a conservation district: the board, the manager, and the staff. From this you can also extrapolate the usefulness of the concept of currency when speaking with people in the communities being served.

Just as with teens, speaking in terms that are important to our audience is more likely to capture their attention. People need to feel that they are heard. Using their currency helps get us there.

Meeting people where they are

Meeting people where they are is a concept that is not new but is resurging in usage today.

That’s why it’s so important to meet them where they are; to learn how to explain insights in a way that is sensible and intriguing to outsiders and that resonates with what they already know.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="" target="_blank">Meet Them Where They Are</a></span>

This is akin to the currency concept described above: speaking with people in words and concepts that resonate with them.

Why go through the trouble of trying to understand what is important to others? Because sometimes that is the only way they will hear you.

The research found that people were in general twice as likely to select information that supported their own point of view as to consider an opposing idea, with two thirds going for supportive views as opposed to a third going the other way.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="" target="_blank">Why we only listen to what we want to hear</a></span>

Board Supervisors

Governing board members of conservation districts tend to see a wide swath of the community served by the conservation district. Generally speaking, they also tend not to delve into the details of particular conservation district programs and services, instead acting as a bridge between interested people and conservation district staff.

District board members know the currency of the communities they are connected to. They use that currency every day as they talk to who they are connected to. This presents a great opportunity to recast key conservation district messages in ways that will work best for district supervisors as they talk to other people in their community.


Managers may see the wider community served, but they also see the operational details and requirements of all of the programs and services offered by the conservation district. When they are talking with professional conservation district staff, those conversations may be a mixture of what the manager needs and what the employees need, with the occasional inclusion of what the board needs, too. While managers need to use the currency of their board members when working with the board, they need to use a different currency when working with district staff.

District staff

Some conservation district staff may be pretty far removed from the activities of the board and the board-related work done by the district manager. When you are working at the service delivery layer, it can be hard to understand what is important to folks at the governance layer. Many times over the years I’ve heard district staff exclaim that the board just doesn’t understand how difficult or complicated staff work is.

It might surprise staff to know that board members sometimes feel that way, too, but in reverse: staff just don’t understand how difficult it is to be a good board member!

When I see those situations, I immediately start to drill down into how messaging is occurring between those two layers of the conservation district. Is the board talking only in terms of governance and oversight functions that are important to them? Is staff only talking in terms that they see as relating to their conservation delivery work?

In those situations, it usually helps to see what is happening from the other person’s point of view. I know this is hard to do, but putting our own wants and needs on hold for a time can help us recognize and appreciate the point of view of someone else.


I’ll close with a comment on agency: a feeling of control over actions and their consequences, e.g., that sense of being in the driver’s seat. Just as I’ve heard people say that folks occupying some other role don’t understand, so too have I heard people say that they feel powerless to change things.

Empowerment stems from someone else giving you power. Agency comes from you as you exercise your free will to achieve a particular result. To me, agency is a much more powerful construct in that you can develop your own agency no matter how much, or how little, power has been delegated to you. One way to do this is to actively use currency in your communications with others.

You have agency. I have agency. We all have agency – the capability to act to produce a particular result.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="" target="_blank">YOU HAVE AGENCY. HERE’S HOW TO USE IT.</a></span>

Currency and agency: two very powerful concepts that you can apply in your conservation district work, no matter what role you fill in your organization!

Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director