Conversations with Grandma

One purpose to learning, and increasing knowledge, is the opportunity to share this knowledge with others. Any scientific topic can be difficult to discuss because there is a baseline level of knowledge, and terminology, necessary for understanding. Regardless, there are ways to share knowledge accessibly through conversation.

In an article for Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach takes a thoughtful approach to conversations about climate change. Climate change conversations can be difficult and emotional because wildfires and floods have large negative impacts. Peach applies the SPIKES protocol used by doctors to break bad news to a patient. Peach explains how these steps can also provide guidelines for delivering bad news about climate change in a conversation. The six steps are:

  1. Mentally prepare to deliver the bad news
  2. Find out what the other person already knows
  3. Seek an invitation to provide information
  4. Share what you know
  5. Address emotions
  6. Make a plan

In the first step the goal is to anticipate how the person will react and be prepared to respond in a constructive manner. Peach describes how climate deniers represent a small portion of the U.S public. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication around 80 percent are worried about the problem, haven’t made up their minds, or are uninformed.

In the second step the goal is to ask questions gradually increasing in difficulty. Even the difficult questions should be accessible. The first question could be something like: How long have you lived in Pittsburgh? And it could gradually build to a question like: Do you know the causes of the flooding and or landslides in the area?

According to Peach, the goal of the third step is to talk in a way that allows the other person to ask questions. This means keeping your statements brief, or around 2-3 sentences, to not overwhelm the person and allow them to ask questions. This approach varies depending on who you are talking to, but it is a good starting point.

The third step provides an opportunity to share your knowledge. Here Peach emphasizes the importance of speaking in compassionate language. It is also important to share the message of hope. If you explain how climate change is a serious problem, but share how there is hope, I believe they will be more inclined to share their new knowledge with others.

The fifth step allows you to further explain there is hope and acknowledge the person’s emotions. One of the best ways to respond to other’s emotions, in an appropriate way, is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Everyone is different so what is helpful for one person might not be helpful for another. If the person wants to have another conversation about this in the future, you will better understand how to respond.

The seventh step is where you can discuss opportunities for practical applications. This is where you suggest actions the person could take that might help them feel better and allow them to make a positive impact to combat the negative emotions they are going through.

There are some additional considerations necessary for a conversation like this. One thing to consider is the timing of this conversation. Is the person in a mood, or space, where they will be most receptive to a challenging conversation? What are they currently going through in their lives? This information can be discovered in step 2. Lastly, Peach explains how many doctors speak to family members about how they can support the patient. This is important and should be applied to any difficult conversation. It often takes the combined effort of multiple people to help someone change.


One Comment Add yours

  1. holly.taylor says:

    I think that this article provides a great breakdown for effective communication. By being more in tune with how we share information with different groups will ultimately allow us to have more productive conversations.

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