Turning down the heat on controversial topics like Climate Change – Dr. Waleed Abdalati at TEDx

At the September 2014 TedxMileHigh event in Denver, Dr. Waleed Abdalati shared his insights on creating meaningful conversations about difficult, divisive topics. This 15-minute talk will change the way you engage in conversation about controversial topics like climate change.

Dr. Abdaltai describes the tools of communication:

Words – set the tone and convey your opinion. They put the person you’re speaking to in a particular posture.

Attitude – More than what you say, your audience is going to remember how you make them feel.

Clarity of Purpose – you need to be clear on your goals in order to move the conversation forward. “My interest is no so much about getting a certain outcome, it’s getting people to think. “

Dr. Abdalati reminds us that the same data can be interpreted differently depending on who is doing the interpretation. He stresses the importance of the narrative, as we all look at data through our own perceptions of how the world works. This is what shapes our interpretation.

He shares his four rules of engagement:

  1. Understand the context
  2. Frame your ideas in ways that resonate
  3. Don’t tell people what to think
  4. Don’t expect your values to change other people’s beliefs

To accomplish this, he: speaks in simple, logical intuitive statements like this,

“If we put heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, it will trap heat.”

We all share common core principles, things we all value such as safety and prosperity. It’s important to start a controversial conversation from a place of common values like these. Then move to an assumption that focuses on the larger picture, without getting trapped in the details:

“We’re stressing the planet, and that puts our future in a very uncertain state.”

In closing, Dr. Abdalati reminds the audience to provide a positive context. “This doesn’t have to be a story about bad news, instead, focus on the things people value. Frame the discussion in ways that resonate and connect with people.”

About Dr. Waleed Abdalati: As the director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), and the chief scientist at NASA before that, Waleed is among the vanguard of leaders helping us better understand how natural and human-made disturbances impact our planet. His roles have focused on communicating scientific research in ways that help decision-makers and the public understand how we can best ensure a sustainable future environment.

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