By Leigh Evans
The next round of Effective Climate Conversations is coming up in October! Sign up here.
When I first joined THIS! and took the ECC class, the concepts made so much sense to me, but I also remember wishing I’d learned them sooner. One of my biggest takeaways from this class and my own experience is that true listening is transformative, and the absence of listening can be counterproductive or even harmful.
Back in my senior year of college, I took a Climate Justice class that opened my eyes to the severity of the crisis, and I did not take it lightly. I confronted the people I was closest to with the information I’d learned, not understanding that my attempt to condense the journey I’d been through during a 3-month class into a single conversation with my family members was likely to backfire.
I was overcome with urgency, focused entirely on talking peoples’ ears off because “there was so much they had to know!,” or so I told myself. Unfortunately, this approach intensified until it reached a breaking point for one of my family members, who then set a boundary with me: the two of us were not allowed to discuss anything remotely political or controversial if we were to continue our relationship.
It was a heartbreaking example of too many conversations gone wrong, and it’s taken me years to rebuild trust with my family member. Back then, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t arrive at the same place I did, because I wasn’t connecting the dots. People are unlikely to go from a 4 to a 10, or Disengaged to Alarmed, in a single conversation. I had the privilege of learning about the climate crisis in a highly structured and supportive environment with peers and teachers over 3 months. Learning takes time and it also requires a safe environment, especially when it comes to learning scary and uncomfortable things.
Many of us (understandably) feel like there is no time to waste in building the climate justice movement. This real urgency that exists around the issue we’re advocating for can easily leech into the way we treat people around us. If these conversations are not done with care and skill, they can backfire and cause people to be even more disengaged or doubtful than they were before.
Our Effective Climate Conversations class teaches people how to avoid common pitfalls in conversations, respond to “curveballs,” and, most importantly, how to build our listening muscles. If we want to bring more people into the movement, enough to reach a pivotal 3.5% of the population, we need to allow time and space for real connections, trust, and empathy to lead the way.
Research has shown that these types of conversation skills have significant, measurable impacts on people’s beliefs in the context of a related practice called “deep canvassing.”
I feel so fortunate that my relationship with my family member has been largely mended through applying these learnings over time. We can now discuss political issues with calm, patience, and from a place of mutual respect. I know that if I hadn’t actively worked on the skill of having effective conversations, we’d be stuck in a repeating cycle of self-righteousness, bruised egos, and disconnection.
Many students who have gone through our classes have reported similar impacts – from more effective conversations with a manager at a climate-bad bank, to far-reaching general improvements in their relationships. Here’s a sampling of what they’ve had to say:
- “This class has helped me have more kind and courageous conversations. I find myself not only having more conversations about climate change, but about other sensitive issues important to me.”
- “I thought I would be intimidated about having climate conversations. But we’re taught to focus on making connections rather than conversions. This greatly reduced my anxiety and I now look to have conversations with lots of people and I enjoy them.”
- “My conversation with our local Chase Branch Manager would have been a disaster if not for this course. I was able to get to an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” place with him and it made a huge difference. The conversation went great and he even gave me some people at the bank to send information to.”