Three Strategies for Effective Climate Conversations with Friends and Family
By Leigh Evans, Climate Advocacy Program Manager
As we come to the end of the year, many of us will gather with friends and family to celebrate and/or squabble. It could be a great time to talk with loved ones about climate change and ways that we can collectively take action, but it’s vital to facilitate these conversations with care.
Don’t underestimate the power of planting a seed, which is far more effective than pushing a conversation to its breaking point: research has shown that merely knowing one’s friends and family care about climate change makes a person more likely to support policies that address it (regardless of their place on the political spectrum!)
If you’re hoping to minimize the squabbling this season, we’ve got some tips from our Effective Climate Conversations class that can help:
1. Maintain a “Tell Me More” Attitude
A great way to avoid lighting emotional fuses is to approach conversations from a place of deep listening and intentional questioning. If you’re unsure where to start, try asking the person how they feel about climate change or present an interesting climate fact and ask them what they think about it. If you feel stuck, saying something like “can you tell me more about that?” is a safe way to keep the conversation moving and let the person know that you value what they have to say.
Remember, empathy is NOT agreement! Having a Tell Me More attitude does not mean agreeing with the other person. We can use our empathy muscles and treat people with respect, while also letting them know where we don’t agree and why.
If you feel like your fuse is close to being lit, we recommend stopping the conversation respectfully before that point is reached and returning to it later when everyone is able to get to an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” space.
2. Appeal to a Potential Climate Concern
Every person has something they care about. We may not always have those things in common, but no matter our place on the political spectrum, we all have a Potential Climate Concern. Some examples include: favorite hiking spots being endangered by wildfires; biodiversity loss affecting hunting/fishing areas; midwestern farmlands being threatened by increasingly unpredictable flooding patterns; children or grandchildren who will grow up in a time of dwindling resources and extreme weather.
Think about who you’re speaking with and what they might care deeply about that is threatened by climate change (check out our Quiz for ideas). Validate their concerns and focus on where you agree. This approach prioritizes connection, as opposed to listing scientific facts that come off more like an attempt at conversion. Connection is what grows the movement!
3. Give People Hope
The “A word” gives people hope (…Action!). If you encounter someone who feels hopeless/helpless about climate change, give them some concrete, “easy on-ramp” actions they can take. Draw attention to how many people are already taking them, and the fact that actions have a greater impact when done in solidarity with lots of other folks. Check out this flyer for four actions at the heart of effective climate action.
Another way to give people hope is to draw their attention to the landmark climate legislation that was passed this year. Climate change legislation is finally entering the Overton Window, which is huge! Next up to enter the window should be large-scale climate change ACTION.
Would you like to practice these skills and learn more techniques for having Effective Climate Conversations? Sign up here to be informed of future classes.
Thanks to California Environmental Voters for their wonderful November blog that inspired this essay.