This holiday season, as family members with opposing views on climate change share time together, explosive screaming matches may seem inevitable. If you’re gearing up for a conversation on the climate crisis, here are three key techniques that will ensure your dinner table conversations are productive and don’t burn bridges.
1. Remain positive and open-minded
The moment you resort to getting upset, any productivity in the conversation has ended. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with what your family member or friend is saying, or allow them to be purposely rude to you. Try your best to maintain your cool and not take the things they say personally, especially if they did not mean it that way. Do your best to remain calm and see things from their perspective without coming across as condescending. Think about your own motives and attitude — if you truly do want to understand why they believe what they believe and reach a middle ground, that authenticity is sure to come through.
But if they are being combative or refusing to listen to your perspective, you may just have to let it go. It can really be upsetting to see someone you care about refusing to relate to you, but some people are unwilling and that is not something you can blame yourself for. If this is the case, just try to redirect the conversation to something non-political and avoid returning to that conversation.
2. Avoid using facts, instead appeal to emotions and experiences
Even though facts and data may seem like the most compelling argument tactic, experts explain that facts don’t work in conversations like these. Especially in a time of rampant misinformation, facts are often dismissed and can result in a dead end. But since nearly everyone in California has experienced the recent rise of extreme heat and wildfire smoke, nobody can doubt that something is wrong.
For every individual at the table, there will be something they especially care about. From their kids’ futures, to their favorite vacation spot, to having clean drinking water, and the list goes on. And since everyone and everything is affected by climate change, this can be the best way to bridge your understanding! If you can explain how the climate crisis connects to something especially important to them, you have hit the jackpot.
Show your loved ones you’re bringing these issues to their attention not because you care only about some abstract idea of the environment but because you care about how the climate crisis will affect — or has affected — them.
3. Talk about solutions
The doomsday talk can be exhausting, even for those who understand that climate change is happening and is caused by humans. For family members who would rather not think about it at all, one way to get them interested is to talk about what solutions are already being implemented and how they are working. Many of the climate wins we have had this year, such as the $54 billion climate budget and the climate bills passed in the Legislature, would be great to bring up. Solutions often also tie to other important topics, like jobs, health, and infrastructure that your family members could get behind.
You may make mistakes and forget these guiding techniques, but that’s OK. We don’t have to be experts in climate communication in order to make progress in these conversations. Sometimes we have to talk to our family members about climate change whether we want to or not. Just try your best to stick to these rules and hopefully you will find some middle ground this holiday season.