Climate Change and the Need for Collaboration

On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal to set carbon pollution standards across the United States. President Obama went on to promote these efforts. He was both applauded and criticized for taking this stance. There is ongoing political controversy as to how much power there should be in the Federal government vs. the State government levels. The EPA is a Federal agency, but the requirements for how states comply with the law is state-by-state. How much collaborative effort did it take for all the individuals, groups and organizations involved to come to this type of agreement? This process probably brought people back to the drawing board many, many times. After all, it takes immediate sacrifice from all those involved to achieve any long-term effects.

Since 1998, there have been rising temperatures globally and we have had the 10 warmest years on record. That means 10 out of the past 16 years have been higher than average. There has also been an increase in extreme weather patterns, such as droughts, floods and wild fires. This has wreaked havoc, incurred significant costs and has increased pubic health threats to those at the greatest level of risk. We also know that carbon pollution is the biggest driver of climate change. That is something we need to more effectively control.

There are many ways of responding to these issues, and ultimately, no response is also a type of response. Morton Deutsch*, a social psychologist, coined Deutsch’s Crude Law of Social Relations, which states, “The characteristic processes and effects elicited by a given type of social relationship also tend to elicit that type of social relationship, and a typical effect tends to induce the other typical effects of that relationship.”

In other words, perceptions of cooperation encourage us to act cooperatively and that, in turn, sets the stage to elicit cooperative behaviors from others. When we have familiar interests and attitudes, it is easier to believe we share common goals. This alignment is more likely to induce cooperative behaviors. The same is true for competition. When we see opposing interests and goals, it leads to the belief: If you achieve your goal I will not achieve mine, thus I must advocate for mine.

We spend so much time resisting and fighting rather than engage in discovering the best way forward. There needs to be a shift in focus from yes or no to how. Reducing pollution through controlling carbon emissions really requires us to be cooperative. If some people are controlling their carbon footprint, but others are not, the impact of this will be slowed down or not felt at all. We are interdependent, we share the same global air even if we think we do not experience that while breathing our local air. In order for acts of cooperation to be present, there needs to be an overarching goal that all parties can support. We need to see the immediate value in getting on board in order to stimulate our motivation. It is also important to identify the needs opposing parties may have; what potentially they think will not be satisfied? Perhaps if jobs are a concern, it’s employment in alternative energy initiatives. Last but not least, we need to pay attention to the feeling of fear we may have when faced with change.

So what does it take for us to see beyond our own immediate needs? How can we make the first move to establish cooperation or turn uncooperative relationships around? Is there too much distance between ourselves and the issue of climate change to really understand the immediate need for cooperative action? When there is no clear personal buy-in (because individuals, groups and organizations have different objectives) we need change leaders, otherwise known as driving forces, that will drive the group to achievement. We need to understand every stakeholder involved and their priorities. In the case of the new EPA guidelines, the effort has been wide. Now, only with true collaborative efforts and time, will we be able to measure success.

We welcome your thoughts and experiences, please comment below!

*Deutsch, M. (2014). Cooperation, competition and conflict. P. 12. In (Eds.) Coleman, P.T., Deutsch, M. and Marcus, E.C. The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Insider, Outsider

When working with groups there are times I am an insider because I am a member of that group, or I am an outsider because I am brought in as a third party facilitator or mediator. There are benefits and challenges to both roles.

As an insider there is a personal investment and so there is a higher emotional charge attached to any actions, interactions or decisions made. There is an in-depth wealth of knowledge from firsthand experience that can enable us to make more informed choices and decisions. At the same time it is more challenging to practice collaborative skills of engagement, such as listening to understand and not respond or refute, empathizing with the other person and being open to other perspectives and points of view.

As an outsider who is called in to work with a group, perhaps facilitating a decision making process, there is less personal investment in what the actual decision is and more a sense of responsibility for creating the space that supports the group in getting to where they need to be. The benefit of being a third party is that we can maintain our focus on the process and not get caught up emotionally in the content. The challenge is that we do not have in-depth knowledge or expertise of the content and we may not have the awareness that the group is off track from the content of what they need to make thoughtful and realistic decisions for action.

As a facilitator I am very conscious of communication and the use of language. I pay attention to the seemingly slight nuances in what people say because every word, tone and mannerism is fateful in influencing the response, the relationship and the social world the conversation partners are co-creating. This becomes increasingly challenging when I work with interpreters because the language of the communication is not my native tongue, English. I am one step removed from being able to focus on the nuances and delayed from the immediacy of experiencing the communication.

Internally, I have had to make peace with this drawback and believe that the value I add is still felt in that I am able to support people in shifting the quality of their interactions and relationships to being more positive and constructive. If I am not able to do that because the language and cultural differences are too great, then I need to have this awareness and step aside so as not to further obstruct the communication and potential relationship building.

Cosmopolitan Communication

What is this thing we call “cosmopolitan communication?” This was one of the many points raised recently at a gathering of interculturalists aspiring to make better social worlds by facilitating cross-cultural communication. There is something sophisticated in the sound of the word “cosmopolitan” as it raises images of people communicating in ways that go beyond instrumentality. Something else is taking place here in this word that has an alluring appeal to it. Possibly because we experience our communication in less than optimal ways we seek to improve it. Even if we are in coordination with others and fostering healthy and constructive relationships, isn’t there always room for improvement?

What kind of world would we be creating if people spoke to each other in a cosmopolitan form of communication? What are some of the characteristics associated with the term and what could we expect in this type of conversation? For one, there would be mutual respect demonstrated through intent listening and caring. You would be able to feel the other person being present in the space that you and your conversation partner encompass. The non-verbal expressions and gestures would be in sync with the comments being made and appropriate to the tone and content of what you are communicating. The person’s responsiveness would encourage you to want to continue to engage as your relationship reaches new levels of coordination. And all of this would be met with reciprocity so that you, too, are present for the other person.

This really is a familiar feeling we have all experienced at least once in our lives (I am setting the bar low!). What was it that the other person was doing that made me want to open up, trust him/her and engage? What was I doing to encourage this and how did I respond so that in our turn taking we continued this pattern?

It would be really helpful if we could demystify this complex process known as communication so that if our intentions are to improve, we at least know how to take the first step. OK, your turn.