“If we can get legislators to not oppose us, that would go a long way” – Vince, Enviromentum

At the last monthly national meeting, CCL UK and CCL EU received some inspirational training from Vince Schutt from Enviromentum.

Vince specialises in motivational interviewing, which allows the legislator (activist, climate change denier, family member) to be empowered to tackle climate change – or, at least, not to oppose it.

The session showed that compassion and empathy would achieve our goals where confrontation and persuasion (or shaming/bullying) do not.

And it seems to have worked for CCL Canada – they undertook Vince’s training before their big lobby session with elected representatives, empowering the Canadian government to adopt a form of carbon fee and dividend.

Vince applauded the training participants for being the resilient ones – the ones who know the awful truth about climate change and can still pick themselves up and do something about it. Others – who may know the science as well as we do – are not. “Climate change denial is a good thing,” said Vince, “it prevents an epidemic of mental breakdown.” Vince described climate change denial (or, in the UK, an ‘it won’t be that bad’ downplay) as a defence mechanism for people who aren’t so resilient.

This offered a deep insight into why talking science at legislators could send them scurrying back into their comfort zones. Instead, said Vince, “If I can go in with compassion I may be able to bolster their resilience.” For some, simply aiming for them not to oppose us could make the crucial difference in passing legislation.

Motivational Interviewing is making it about them, and not us. “Why don’t they teach this at school?” asks Vince. In his experience of hundreds of interviews, he can only remember two occasions where this technique didn’t work – one who thought climate change was the wrath of God and another was a teenager whose sarcasm Vince mistook for a straight question.

There’s a basic equation to follow:

Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

In other words, making it about them increases trust, and making it about us, the activist, reduces trust, and trust is the sweet point for building a relationship and their going into bat for our – now, their – cause.

Intimacy can be created very quickly by seeking collaboration and emphasising autonomy. So we don’t shame and bully our MP, or even confront and persuade, we ask them for their help and allow them the ability to choose.

To do this, Vince asked us to go in with curiosity, ask curious questions to stimulate a mutual conversation and ‘draw out their best arguments for change’.

An example:
“Why are you wearing that T-shirt?”
“I like the slogan on your T-shirt. Tell me about it.”
Which would get the best result? Which would feel the nicest question?

Now transpose that to climate activism (imagine a Conservative MP):
“Why did you vote for the agriculture bill?”
“I like what the Prime Minister said in his congratulatory tweet to Biden, where he mentioned tackling climate change. It gave me so much hope that this was the thing he led with. How did you feel about that?”
Which would start a conversation with your MP, and which would put them in defence mode?

And how do you deal with an MP intent on a 20 minute monologue, an ‘extroverted supertalker’?

Motivational interviewing is a dance, Vince said, ‘sometimes directive, sometimes passive.’ He said that he waits until they begin to repeat themselves, then interrupts and repeats back their points in the most positive way possible – ‘View them as an angel’ – so they feel they can move on with the conversation.

Vince gave his time and expertise for free to this training session because he ‘wants there to be food in the future’. Sign up to CCL to take part in more (free) training.

Watch the video above. The post-training Q&As are here, (both videos streamed from YouTube).

The training transcript is here: Motivational interviewing transcript

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