How to start a climate conversation (and stop it from going badly wrong).

Read part two in our series: Meeting climate conversation characters

One of the most powerful things you can do to take action on climate change is to talk about it with friends and family.

We asked climate conversations expert Susannah Raffe for her eight top tips for talking about climate change with family and friends (without ending up in a row).

1. Start with a story.

Starting the conversation can sometimes be the hardest part. Forget the latest climate data, put away the graphs, and simply tell a story. Your story. Think about why tackling climate change is important to you, and share one of the moments you decided you had to do something. Be sincere and let yourself be vulnerable, and others will be willing to do the same.

2. Invite others in with questions about how they feel or think about climate change.

You’ve had your chance to speak, so now it’s someone else’s turn. A great way to turn the conversation round to others is with questions.

A challenge when it comes to talking about climate change is that people can often be worried they don’t know enough, and might say the ‘wrong’ answer. So ask questions that connect with how they feel, rather than being a pop quiz about the science, engineering or geeky political facts.

For example: What does climate change mean to you? Do you worry about climate change? When did you first start being aware of climate change?

3. Ask curious questions

Day to day conversations often go something like this: I say my opinion you respond with your opinion, I come back with another opinion and so forth. That’s fine for talking about the latest film, but to get a deeper conversation happening, try asking a question that invites the other person to think deeper about what they've just said and their true opinion.

Some good go-to questions What makes you say that? How could we change that? Tell me more about… And if you are in a group: What does everyone else think about that?

4. Listen.

Listening is a grossly underrated skill and its importance in conversations about climate change and other challenging topics cannot be emphasised enough. Listen with all your senses and quieten your own inner thoughts to tune into the conversation. There's always a deeper story behind what people say. Find it.

5. Let silences happen.

In daily conversation we like to fill silences. Those awkward pauses are hastily banished to be replaced by sound. But if you've just asked a profound question or have asked someone to express a difficult feeling, give them time. Silence offers us a moment to reflect.

6. Allow people to express emotion.

While facts are a key part of climate change, they’re only one small part of how we form our opinions, and our brains are very good at ignoring or manipulating facts that don't fit our worldview.

Plus there are so many reasons why, when it comes to climate change conversations, we need to bring in emotion. Emotions connect us with others in a way that facts don’t. What’s more, climate grief is a thing, as is climate guilt. Feelings like that are real and they’ll only get more real in the future. We need to be able to talk about this and support each other through difficult times ahead.

7. Remember, it’s a conversation, not a debate or a manifesto writing exercise.

Conversations are not about winning or losing. Neither are conversations about consensus or reaching a conclusion. They’re about engaging sincerely with another person about something important to you. If you disagree, that's fine. Don't dismiss the other person’s opinion: acknowledge, validate, move forward. It's more important to keep the channels of communication open for future discussion than to browbeat someone into seeing your own point of view.

8. Let yourself laugh

Climate change is a serious topic, but it’s also just the beginning of many future conversations. It's okay to laugh, it helps with the harder stuff.

Photo: JJ Hall, cc