[Georgeann Moss]: Today's speaker is Kevin Wilhelm, he is an American business consultant in the field of sustainability and climate change. He's the CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, which is a Seattle-based firm that's focused on demonstrating bottom line benefits of sustainability and leading companies through successful implementation. He also teaches at the graduate level at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle, and he's the author of three books, which I own all of them. The first is Making Sustainability Stick, second is Return on Sustainability: How Business Can Increase Profitability And Address Climate Change In An Uncertain Economy, and then of course, the one we're here to talk about today, which is, How To Talk To The Other Side: Finding Common Ground In Time Of Coronavirus, Recession, And Climate Change. Wow, that's really a timely topic. So Kevin, in the introduction to your new book, you say, this book is about hope, optimism, and practicality. It's not about finding ways to convince the other side that you are right and they are wrong, nor is it about trying to get someone to switch political parties or point blame about how COVID should've been handled. Instead, it's about finding common ground, not only through small actions but through the foundation of our shared aspirations and humanity. If we're gonna meet today's challenges, we first have to get back to being able to talk to one another. So I really love that thought and wanted to put that out there, and now Kevin, if you will give us your presentation and then we'll go straight into the Q&A.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: So as Georgeann led in, and I appreciate that introduction, Georgeann, 'cause you really jumped in, you know, for some of you wondering, what are the type of clients that I work with? You know, they range from Fortune 500 companies like New York Life, Expedia, Amazon.com, to small businesses to pro sport teams like the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Trailblazers, to airlines like Alaska Airlines, to the Tommy Bahamas of the world, to cities and counties, and so as I've been doing this work over the years and trying to find where can we use sustainability to be that bridge builder between people on different sides, that really led to the creation of this book, and I'm gonna really jump into the presentation and then really look forward to your questions throughout this presentation today. So we all know we're extremely divided politically, we're divided economically, we're very divided socially right now, especially during the time of coronavirus, we're divided on issues of race justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, and even on public health, the idea of wearing a mask has now become a divisive issue. We're seeing it all over the country. But what I really wanna talk about is, we all know that, and how do we bridge that? How do we find common ground? And as Georgeann mentioned, I've found that you find it through shared aspirations and you find it through shared goals and practical solutions. You know, you're not gonna change anyone's ideology, you're not gonna change anyone's political affiliation with a conversation, but what you can do is find common ground, and so I'm gonna hit on a bunch of 'em today. Obviously, everyone's wanting to talk about Republicans and Democrats, but there's obviously an urban-rural divide in this country, there's a divide on whether climate change is real or not, and certainly there's always been a divide between Wall Street and environmentalists about you know, should business be doing more to help clean up the environment, or however you want to frame it. I'm gonna jump in with some real world examples as to how we go about that, but let's first start with the idea that any conversation is divisive. You've got to realize that everyone's got the shared aspiration of who wants financial stability. Right now, especially with Monday looming and 33 million Americans potentially losing their unemployment, you know, people just want financial stability. They want ability to have a good life, they want to be able to retire, that's an area of that shared aspiration. People want a healthy family, no one wants their loved ones getting sick right now. People want job security, if they have a job, they want to know they're gonna keep it. If they don't have a job, they know they're gonna want to be able to get one back, and people want safe communities. Parks, places they can recreate, they want to be able to get out and have fun, and so if you start with those areas of common ground right at the top, it kind of sets the conversation very differently. Right now, what's happening is everyone is so divided on the how we solve things. You know, should we focus on public health or reopening the economy? How do we solve issues of climate change? You know, do you punish big businesses or do you engage them? Rather than saying, what is the problem that we're trying to solve and where's that shared aspiration? If you start with, we want to have a society where it's safe for kids to go to school, we want businesses to be open, and we want people to be healthy, then it asks a different question and people hear differently, as opposed to what we've all gotten into this mindset of, in our mass siloization, trying to convince the other side about, our approach is the better approach. When you strip that all away, there's actually way more that unites us than divides us. The key to – and it really seems simple, but what I've found, not only in the research and the focus groups and the hundreds of interviews we did for this book, was that most people feel like they're not being listened to, and too often when you come up with an issue, whether it's climate change, the recession, how do we tackle the coronavirus, the economy, whatever it is, people want to vent, they want to talk, and people get in these arguments about which way is what. What we really need to do is we need to listen to be understood, so you need to listen before speaking, and what I've found is, whether we're talking with coal miners in Appalachia, we're talking with rural land owners in Montana, we're talking with businesses in Houston, people have anxiety. People have fear. They also have hope, and once you start listening to what is at the core of their value and peeling back the onion, then the solutions show up. Now, how do you do that? How do you actually even have that conversation? Well it's just like anything else, you have to connect on a personal level. I think you know, it's just like when you're going to a party or a social event or your kid's soccer game or show up at class, you don't go in and immediately jump in and talk about ideology, about religion or guns or immigration or the political views, you connect on a personal level. How was your weekend, where are you from, what sports teams do you follow, what are your hobbies? Especially during the coronavirus, I think a lot of people are realizing that these people that they work with or went to school with have all these amazing hobbies that they share in common that they never knew about, and it's a different way to open up the conversation. Third, you know, we can't stereotype. I think one of the things is that you know, if someone puts on a Joe Biden hat or a Donald Trump hat, immediately stereotypes go into that. That's what – you know it's become almost like a – our political views almost become like a de facto calling card for our entire value system and everything about us. Now, let's face it, nobody – there's no political candidate on Earth that represents your values. You know, your values are your own, everyone's got different shared values, and so one of the things we need to do is we need to make sure we're not stereotyping and we're not using words like you people, and you voters, and you supporters, and that kind of stuff, because really what it does is it immediately puts someone on the defensive. And lastly, we really need to empathize. I think that when you hear someone that – whether you agree with them or not, if you can empathize with them and listen to them, it helps lower their blood pressure, it lowers the temperature of the conversation you know, if you can just nod and listen to what people are saying and do some appreciative inquiry and just you know, truly be an authentic person about it, then the person will come out, and so that anger and that frustration that everyone has on either side of an issue, you know, you can't get past that. What I like to tell people is, it's just like dealing with a toddler that's having a temper tantrum. You know, if you think about it, you can't deal with a kid who's having a temper tantrum or a meltdown until they calm down, and that's what we really need to do is we need to calm down the conversation so we can actually understand what's truly at the core and root of the cause. So I'm gonna get into some of the more contentious issues. I mean, the reality is, here's how most people deal with climate change: they don't wanna talk about it. You know, you've got half the country that thinks it's an existential crisis, half the country that says, I've got bigger things, more important things, more urgent things that are on my plate right now, and this is how a lot of people are dealing with it. Now, one of the issues is that, as you look here on this slide, you see that natural disasters from extreme weather events are happening all over the country, and as we approach the hurricane season coming up here and also the heatwaves that are hitting in the country, it's gonna lead into fire season again, and you know, people don't wanna necessarily say it's tied to climate change. But rather than trying to convince people, so like what scientists and people on the left have done, you want to use different language. You want to talk about extreme weather events, because – and this is just an example of ones that were billion dollar disasters – when you break it down to $100 million disasters, it shows up pretty much in every state, in all 50 states, and the reality is that most people can't make the connection of a certain event with a climate change, a pattern that's happened over 20 or 30 years, but everybody can connect with a personal story. If you're in Texas, how is the heat wave hitting you? How have the hurricanes, you know, that hit in 2019, what did that do to impact your friends and relatives down in the Houston area? You can have ways of making the conversation and kind of connect on that personal level. Let me use an example here. One of our largest agricultural clients, any of you who drink beer, this is the largest organics hop producer in the world, and you had a situation where the CEO, the father, and his son completely disagreed on whether climate change was happening. You had the CEO who was saying you know, I think it's a hoax, I think I don't wanna agree with this, I've got bigger things to worry about, and you had a son who was saying, we absolutely need to take action on climate change. So we realized they were in an intractable situation, and you also had the family dynamic, which you know, you can't ever solve a family dynamic. However, the way we approached it was we went in and we listened, and we listened to what both sides were saying, and instead of framing the conversation around climate change, we framed it about economic impact, and so when we asked the CEO, what are the two things that really keep you up at night? And he says, well you know, the lifeblood of our hops is water, and you know, when we have these extreme weather events, these extreme droughts, not having enough water, it puts financial pressure on us, but it also puts stress on our supply chain, and you know, it impacts whether or not – you know, the quality of our product. So the dad really understood, what he really cared about was water and the soil content, so we talked about that, and this led to a conversation about you know, numerous ways that you can put more resilient irrigation strategies in there that actually, where instead of watering in the morning and the afternoons, they used technology that could walk around and look at the hops and see on an iPad or an iPhone when the plant and the vine actually needed the water. Now this meant they were using less water, they were saving money, they were using less energy, and it also meant that the plant actually got the water when it needed it. So their crop yields increased, they saved money, and they took action on climate change by reducing their water use and reducing their energy use. Once we had that conversation, then the CEO goes, well yeah, of course I get that things are changing, I just think that you know, any time one of these liberals comes to me and tells me what to do about climate change, I feel like it's an exact attack on who I am and my way of life, and so that was the real anxiety that we needed to solve. But once we found the common ground around, how do we make sure that their business thrives? Then climate just disappeared, the argument disappeared, but the actions that we wanted to take, whether we came in with a scientific climate analysis or not, got achieved, and that's the kind of common ground thinking we need to have. Obviously, you're hearing this issue around the economy and masks, and you know, my company in Seattle, we're surrounded by small businesses around us, and for a long time they absolutely did not want to ask patrons to wear masks, and you know, we had a conversation with them and said, look, you've been shut down, if you can require masks and social distancing, you can open back up and get to 30% or 50%, you can have people be outside, you can start generating your revenue again, and so once they started realizing that, instead of the conversation being about masks and public health and freedom and individualism, that it could be actually about reopening their business and what do we do to safely protect their workers, but also protect their bottom line, the conversation shifted. Now I had a hilarious conversation with some of my friends down in the Southeast where, you know, we were having conversations about the economy, coronavirus and everything, and then I just said to 'em, well, do you guys want a football season this fall, and you know, the Southeastern conference? I don't know if any of you are Aggie fans as opposed to Longhorns or whatever school affiliation you have in Texas, but all of a sudden you know, I was finding I was in this argument with someone who was in a target in the Southeast that I said, if we don't tackle the virus, there's not gonna be football in the fall, and he was like, oh, I never thought about that, and so finding common ground can be you know, hitting the core of somebody, or it can be so simple as where their hobbies are, and this is a way that we can go. We're starting to see this in a lot of pro sports. Now, obviously everyone's saying okay, how can I talk to Republicans and Democrats, how can I get them to switch parties or see what's right? I think you need to do it on a more micro level scale, and so I'm gonna use a couple different examples here to how you find common ground between these two parties, these two platforms where people feel like they just can't understand the other side. Now, one of the areas I try and do this is that, when you've had issues like environmentalists versus business, right versus left, for a long time, to say, where is the common ground? If you want better environmental practices and you want better financial performance, for a long time you've heard this argument that you know, businesses can't do the right thing because that'll impact the value to their shareholders. Well if you look at this slide here, and I know it's a little complicated, but you see in the lefthand side – or let's start it on the righthand side, the Dow, which you hear from the investment firms and that's what gets reported every day, how is the Dow responding compared to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index? And you find that actually the companies that are doing the more social justice work, the better environmental programs, the higher amount of governance, they actually outperformed, and the same thing when you broaden it out to the S&P500 Index, which is about environmental and social responsibility, that those firms that are actually taking proactive steps in those sustainable areas are outperforming. So if you're having an argument that's about business, the environment, or how do you maximize the investment return, lean into the financial argument, because it's a win-win strategy. You can say yes, if all you care about is maximizing the return on your funds, then here's where to go, then it kind of – it removes all the baggage around environmentalism and social justice and all that stuff, and you can actually move the ball forward. In a lot of areas, renewable energy is being seen, certainly in a state like Texas or any of the other rich fossil fuel states, you know, there's tension between renewables and the fossil fuel industry, and they're again, being kind of automatically put into silos by a political party. What we've tried to do was we were realizing a lot of our rural farmers were getting hit by the double whammy of lower commodity prices, higher production costs, especially during COVID and having to put in all new safety controls, they had the tariffs back in the fall with China and now the coronavirus, and these farms are really struggling to survive, and so I went and had this series of listening sessions with our rural farmers, you know they were just – what they cared about is they just wanted to maintain their quality of life, they wanted to pass the farm down through the generations, and they were worried about how they were gonna make it economically, and so we approached them and said, well, what if you put some windmills or solar panels on just a few parcels of your total acreage? And when they saw that putting up a windmill could bring them about $7,200 per turbine annually, and that's just for one turbine, that they could put up three or five of these and make more than they would off all their farming, that it would provide a base level of income year round every year that removed that economic anxiety, and so this was a way of again, peeling back the onion of getting to what was at the core of the issue and finding a sustainable solution, which renewable energy was one of. In Montana, where you've had issues of ranchers versus environmentalists for years, there was an issue of – and I apologize, the black is running over the slide here – but you had an issue where ranchers were concerned about the reintroduction of wolves and other endangered species that were coming in that might kill their livestock, and in the past the issue was, if you had a livestock that was killed, you had to show proof and you had to fill out a bureaucratic form and send it in and you might get reimbursed from the government months later, and when we started talking to people in Montana through the American Prairie Reserve, again, the ranchers and farmers totally understood that the wildlife needed to be there to preserve the ecosystem, they weren't against that. It was about fairness, they just didn't want to have all the burden put on them, they wanted to be able to tell the government, hey, one of my livestock was killed and it was either killed by a cougar or a wolf, and instead of being questioned and having to show proof, American Prairie Reserve put in motion sensors so that every time one of these wolves came across their property, they would automatically receive a check. So these endangered species were then, instead of seen as a liability and a nuisance, became seen as an asset. Change the tenor of the conversation, you find win-win strategies galore. And I'm just gonna conclude on this last one because I think it's really important. At the start of the Afghanistan war, nearly one out of every three casualties and deaths was attributed just to escorting diesel fuel. Now, obviously you need the fuel for not only tanks and humvees and aircraft, but also to charge electronics, especially for soldiers who are up on these 13,000 foot peaks. Now, the soldiers were having to carry tons of batteries on their backs, which led to back injuries, but also you know, slowed them down when they would run into the Taliban. So the Marine Corps, and then followed by the Army, embraced portable solar panels so that the soldiers could then reduce the amount of weight that they were carrying, it reduced the number of back injuries, it made them more agile in combat, made it easier to go up these high peaks, and it also dramatically reduced the number of casualties, and once they embraced this strategy, the number of casualties that were associated with escorting fuel dropped to 1 in 9, from 1 in 3. So this is an area where embracing sustainability is patriotic, it's doing the right thing, and it's helping our men and women in uniform. So let's just discuss, those are some examples that I have today, I want to leave plenty of time for Q&A, and at this point I'll just leave up the slide, but I'll let the questions fly to me, so Georgeann, I'll hand it back over to you.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you, thank you, and so just a reminder to you guys, if you will go ahead and put your questions in the Q&A box, but for right now, I'm gonna – I've got a few questions here I'd like to ask Kevin. So how do you stay calm when somebody pushes your buttons?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Oh my gosh, Georgeann, you know, it is so tough, especially now, and I think that whether I'm at, let's say, the chamber of commerce, and because my company has sustainability in it, someone comes to me and says, you're trying to wreck the economy to save a few spotted owls or a few bald eagles, and I say, why do you say that? You know, and when you hear it, and my gut reaction is to be like, no I'm not, that's totally – let me tell you who I am. But instead, I've found that when I say, why do you say that? You know, and they'll tell me what's behind their statement, and I say, really? I hadn't thought of it that way, has this impacted your business? And then they start telling you what really is going on, and really it's – there's a fear or an anxiety, and you can find the common ground. When I have people come up on the right and on the left – I mean, I get shouted at by the left just as much as by the right on issues – I just try and listen, and it's a really hard thing to do, and I swear, there's days where you just come and you feel like all you're doing is taking incoming and it's really hard, but that's what we need to do right now, and I feel like everyone is so pent up with anger, and of course, the coronavirus has made everything worse, we're all at home and we're all frustrated about anything, whether our Zoom meetings or our WebX meetings work, even just you know day to day chores, we're worried about kids, that just taking that extra breath and just listening to people is how I'm able to confront with it, and of course there's times when certainly you know someone says something really off-putting to me, racist, misogynist, whatever, and you just have to disengage, but for the most part, most people are good and we all share the same aspirations, and so when someone comes at me, I try and immediately just say hi, I'm Kevin, are you – where are you from? And tell me what you do, and hey, have you – and I try and bring up something lighthearted, like sports or a hobby or something I notice about them, travel, weather, and then you find that common ground and the temperature just kind of naturally changes into a normal conversation. So those are the techniques that I've found that work, and that's why I was so adamant about putting those in the book, right in chapter one.
[Georgeann Moss]: I love that, and it also seems like the more you do it, the easier it becomes, 'cause I have found that if I'm expecting difficult conversations, I deal with it much better than if I get blindsided by something, so I love that you do it all the time and so it just becomes muscle memory to you. In the book, you use the phrase tribalism. Can you explain that in the context that you use it?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Yeah, well I mean it's definitely a touchpoint word, but I use it because I think that's kind of how things have evolved, and what I mean is that we've allowed ourselves as a society to let the media, to let social media – mostly social media – mass silo us into different camps and different kind of – you know, whether it's voter groups, demographics, purchasing habits, and what happened is that you're starting to see that you know, 10 years ago, and certainly 20 years ago for sure, but really in the last 5 to 10 years, people didn't define themselves by Republican or Democrat or Independent, that was just a very small portion of who they were. You know, they were whoever they were and they were from a community, they might talk about their religion or where they went to college, whatever, and then maybe how they voted was a very small part of it. But we've started to get into this thing where we've let the R&D define us, and in some cases it's become like a win-lose proposition, like and even the research we found in the political aspect of it was, people didn't care so much if their side won, they just wanted the other side to lose, and it's become very divisive, and in a lot of ways it's like people only wanna listen and associate and socialize and be a part of people that are part of their tribe, and they don't want anything to do with the other side, and that's what we really have to break down is that we have so much more in common than we have that divides us, and not only in the United States but globally. We have to really focus on that aspect.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you. I think Andy has some questions from the audience.
[Andy]: Yeah, there's some questions that have come in. How do you convince people to change deep set habits, traditions such as hunting, gun collecting, in favor of actions harder to do?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Well I think that you know, if – and just clarifying that question, if it's like, how do you change someone's deep habits, like you mentioned gun collecting or hunting, I don't. It's like, I attribute it almost like to religion, you know, you may firmly believe that Buddhism is the way to go, but you're never gonna convince a Hindu that they should come over to Buddhism, or you're not gonna convince a Muslim to come over to Judaism by really talking to them. What I try to do is lean in, so if someone is a gun owner – and of course, I live now in a very urban area of Seattle, but I grew up in rural Ohio, and so what guns meant there was, it was hunting, but the hunters, you know I think they get mis-categorized by environmentalists or people outside. Hunters, if they're truly a hunter, they know the land, they're out there, they have an ethic, they have a code of how they go about it, you know, if they're gonna go and kill an animal, whether it's shooting a deer or whatever, they made sure that they honored it, they made sure that they used every part of it. You know, I mean I've always been amazed at how people will look at people in rural areas who carry guns and from urban areas as kind of the opposite side, and you say okay, you know, if you're in Wyoming or west Texas or you're in Ohio, it's the same thing. Like, they might need it for protection because they're out there on their own, but more often than not, if they're a hunter, they're someone who's out there because it's their sport and it's what they care about, and you start asking them, why do they care about it? And whether it's duck hunting, grouse hunting or whatever, there's a camaraderie to it, that's what their friends do, and you start really getting it's no different than the ice fishermen up in Minnesota, you're like, why would anyone go at 20 below zero and sit on a pond and just fish? It has nothing to do with fishing, it is, a lot of times, that's the way they get together with their buddies and drink beer, and that's the only time, and it's a way to like make winter not seem so long, and so you go oh, okay, that's what you're really talking about. It's not fishing or hunting, it's like a camaraderie. So I try and lean in and understand people, and I think that's what we need to be doing.
[Andy]: Another question we got was, thank you for your presentation. I generally follow the suggestions you've shared. How do you deal with people who are irrational, especially family who don't use critical thinking, logic, or et cetera?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Right. You know, it's hilarious that that question came up because I think every person that I've talked to has been like, oh, I can use this to talk to my uncle or my little sister or my crazy aunt, you know, or my brother that either has gone off the deep end and only watches MSNBC or Fox News. You know, I – again, because they're family, it's so hard because there's not only the element of rationality, but there's a family dynamic, and so I'll use an example. I'm the youngest of four boys. I may have the right answer, but my oldest brother's never ever gonna listen to what I'm gonna say because I'm the youngest brother, and you know I'm like, okay, so we gotta solve that issue before I can talk about reason or rationality, and I think that the reality is that most people – and this bared out in the research that we showed in our political chapter of the book – is that people make decisions based on emotion as opposed to reason. So when you understand, when you're trying to figure out like, how can I rationalize with someone who's irrational? You can't. You have to hit them where their emotion is, what's behind that emotion? Why do they think that way? And so I have in my family, I've got people on the far left who – on my – I'll just say my extended family without naming names, but who think that Trump is the problem with everything in the entire world, you have people on the right who think of him as the only solution, and so there's complete – you know, they can't see eye to eye, their reasoning is different, but when you understand the reason, the emotion behind it, what I found is on the right, emotion is behind it because they just are so sick of politicians, they hate Washington, they feel like they're never listened to, the solutions never get – you know, they feel like their community is turned away and they want someone to address that, and maybe the Democratic leaders in their city haven't done anything. And then – that's on the right, and then on the left side, people who think that Trump's wrong with everything, they have an equally different way of going about it, and so trying reason, you know again, using the toddler example, like you can't reason with someone who's irrational, so how can you talk to them? You've gotta you know, hit 'em where their emotions are, but you can also start with that common ground. So you know, I used an example of the football one, you know my family are huge baseball fans, and I just kept saying to them, when the coronavirus – 'cause it broke first here in Seattle, said you all need to take this seriously or you're not gonna be able to watch your kids play baseball this spring, and they just – whatever, but once I kept saying baseball, baseball, baseball, they started wearing masks and doing the social distancing and all of a sudden started taking it more seriously, and I think that that's kind of the – you know, if I had tried to rationalize with them on medical and public health studies and everything, it just went over their head and they didn't care, so I had to hit them where their emotions were, what was core to their values.
[Andy]: Thank you. There was a third question that came in, does your approach differ when discussing the needs for systemic change, as opposed to pursuing tactical, incremental wins?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Yes, absolutely. Tactical incremental are kind of easier to come by, I usually start there because what I've found is, we all know there needs to be systemic changes, but doing systemic change is really difficult. I mean I'll just – think about trying to get your parents to change their habits on anything, it's a tough one, and it might be just a very small thing. So as much as I see that systemic change is necessary, I've found that – and certainly when, whether it's – we're dealing with individuals, but certainly when I go in with corporations, even when you've got a CEO and she or he is totally in charge of the organization, they are somewhat powerless to move the whole culture of the organization, even though they're the boss, and so what we try to do is, rather than biting off – you know, and we have this all the time, we get companies come to us and say, I want to be the greenest company in industry X, we'll say great, but in order to do that, you first need to have some very tactical wins that are concrete, that people can understand, that they can get, and that you know, show some – either whether it's bottom line savings or business profit or that make their job and life easier, and you have a few of those, and then they're willing to take on the bigger systemic conversations. But there's very few people who are willing to come in and are open to their whole worlds being changed, because just as humans, we're adverse to change. Think about how hard it is to get you to switch your cell phone plan or to get you to change your cable package, because things already work, you don't wanna mess it up, and when you try and look at like, a whole systemic change, that's a big thing to do. But I absolutely agree, we need systemic change, and how you have those conversations, I usually lead in with the tactical stuff.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you Kevin, and I had another question sent to me in chat privately, and that is, when a discussion falls apart to finger pointing and name calling, what's the best way to disengage?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Yeah, sometimes it's just to call it out and just say you know, this isn't really – if it's in a business situation, this isn't productive, if it's a family situation, you know, this conversation's not going anywhere, and a lot of times just giving people kind of time and space is – you know, just if you're gonna leave the conversation, doing it in a respectful way as opposed to a disrespectful way. Don't just throw your hands up and say, I can't talk with you anymore, just say hey, we're having disagreements on this and I wanna keep our friendship or our relationship intact, so I think we should move onto a different topic, and then shift it to something very light, of God, can you believe how hot it is right now? Or you know, do you have any plans before school starts, or what are you gonna do if school's online in the fall? And that can quickly change the tenor of the conversation, you can bring it back, but that's if you're having a civil conversation or it's someone that you care about. If it's just purely name calling and finger pointing with someone who just, you don't even – can't stand them or want to be in the room with them ever again, and I think the best thing is just to politely excuse yourself and you realize that you're gonna have some of those. I mean I'm not a pariah here that can say you can win 100% of these. What I'm trying to say is, maybe you can find common ground with 85% of these, as opposed to 0%, which we're having right now, and if we can get 80% or 85%, that's a heck of a lot closer to 100% than trying to win them all. There's some you just, it's not gonna happen.
[Georgeann Moss]: Love that, thank you. And here's another comment that was sent to me privately, what to do with people who don't want to talk? I ask them how they are doing and they don't want to talk anymore.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Yeah, again, I would try and find what – you know, if it's a friend or colleague or family member and you're trying to ask them how they're doing, if you just are asking, hey, how are you doing, and they're not responding, think back to what you did bond over, what shared experiences you had, what happy moments you had, and try and bring the conversation back to that. I mean I know that if I'm having a conversation with someone who says, I just don't want to talk to you anymore, a lot of times I'll go back to what brought us together, whether it was a hobby or a shared love of books or an author or the sports team we worked for, or played or even watched, and when you do that, it at least allows the space to open up again. I've had some of my best friends have gone off what I would say on the deep end, on both the right and the left, and they both seem to think I – I mean, someone in the middle ground who's trying to find common ground is the enemy, because why aren't I just seeing what they're seeing? And so I try and put the political stuff on the back burner and really get back to why I became friends with them or had the relationship with them in the first place and focus on that and repair the bridge before you can go over the bridge, and I think that's kind of the analogy I like to use is that if you've got a relationship and it's broken or is hurting, you've gotta repair the bridge before you can go over it.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you, here's one more comment, it really doesn't have a question in there but I'll go ahead and read it to you, just so you'll know the thoughts out there. I have the biggest emotional reaction with family who are now on the complete polar opposite to me, because we were supposedly raised the same, but now we are so influenced by some far extreme position not based on facts, it's frustrating.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Yeah, and I completely agree with you and I have the same, I have that same relationship with my family and I think most people do nowadays, which didn't exist ten years ago. I know in certain parts of my family, they just agreed to not talk about certain subjects. They won't talk about politics just like they won't talk about the drinking habits of one of our uncles, you know, it's just a taboo subject, we don't talk about it, or why isn't one member of the family, why is he always getting laid off from his jobs? Okay, we're just not gonna talk about that, and you're absolutely right, like I mean I think the thing that's been amazing to me is, like you say – or to the commenter, that you've been raised the same, you have the same values, you might even have gone – you obviously probably went to the same schools and those type of things, but you've totally diverged, and understanding why that divergence has happened, and again, you can't do it with having rational conversations, you have to kind of peel back the onion and really take the time to ask deep – not even deep questions, but just kind of understand what's at the core as to why they're either so afraid or so angry or so anxious. I mean, when I do it with – say, with my in-laws, they are so angry and they spout about all the things and the political stuff, and I'll just keep saying you know, so why do you see – is there a solution? How is this impacting you? Is this on a day to day – the reality is, what happens at the federal level doesn't impact their day to day lives at all, pretty much, but they sit and watch TV and let their social media feeds blow up and influence them, so it becomes like the only thing they can talk about. And so I think listening, but also trying to find other ways to kinda backdoor the conversation, as opposed to going at it directly, is pretty crucial.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you. Well, and I have another followup to what you were saying. In the book, you say nobody likes being told what to do or being talked down to, and I absolutely agree with that and I feel like many of our communication challenges stem from this issue, but sometimes we're so sure that we're right that we can't even imagine another viewpoint. So what are some practical tips for changing our thoughts so that we can open our minds to other viewpoints?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Great question, Georgeann, and in fact, in the first chapter of the book we talk about finding common ground, and the last chapter of the book, we have kind of a cheat sheet for how to have difficult conversations, and I think one of them is that reality of, you know, whether you wanna be the yeller or the – I mean it's like, nobody likes to be yelled at, no one likes to be talked down to, and when you're so sure you're right, you can be right about the facts, and you can disagree with someone's opinion, but you can't really disagree with their experience, and I think that's the issue is that again, as I lay it out in the books and I talk about earlier, the barriers that we're seeing from the people in Montana or in eastern Washington, whether it's about climate change, the urban-rural divide, whether it's about wildlife coming in and killing their livestock, the barrier really wasn't what we thought it was, you know, and so what their experience was – and I'll just come back to the example in Montana – was their experience had been, the environmentalists had said, well you know, if you get – you need to open up these wildlife corridors 'cause they're an endangered species, and if your livestock gets killed, you get compensated, you get compensated above market value, I don't see what the problem is. What the experience of that rancher was, I totally agree with you, but you don't understand, like my livestock gets killed in the morning and then it smells and then I have to dispose of it and I have to pay for that disposal, and meanwhile I have to then go online and fill out a form that – damn it, it's a PDF and I have to print it, and then I have to sign it and put it in the mail and then I send it and I don't hear anything for three to six months, and then when I finally do, maybe I made a typo or something, they send it back, and so the reimbursement thing takes a year, and so their experience is of frustration and just gosh, why is this – why doesn't it feel fair? They're the ones who live on the land, they completely agree with it, but their experience is different than what the reality is, so that while the facts can be – you can be so sure about the facts, and if you have those, rather than convincing people on facts, you wanna listen to their experience and meet them there. You gotta meet people where they are.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you, that was very helpful. Andy, do you have anything? Anymore questions?
[Andy]: I'm not seeing any other questions, I just saw a message, thank you for your answer for one of the previous ones.
[Georgeann Moss]: Thank you. And Laurie, did you have any questions out of the chat?
[Laurie]: I do not.
[Georgeann Moss]: Okay. Well in that case, I think that we'll go ahead and wrap this up and let Kevin have his last say, and then I'll tell you about what's coming up in the fall and remind you to fill out your evaluation forms. So Kevin, take it away.
[Kevin Wilehlm]: And I think you had a followup question on the poll, you know, how people felt at the beginning versus the end of the conversation, and I'll just – you're gonna hear, as we head into political season, you know, the rhetoric is gonna get worse and worse, and it's gonna get harder and harder, and I think for all of us who are on this call and all of us who care about sustainability, we need to be kinda that barrier that doesn't allow things to break, you know, we need to be the ones who can find the common ground, that can lower the temperature of the conversations, that can dispute mistruths and people who are bringing up fake news and that kinda stuff, and while you do it, how you talk to someone is just as important as what you say, and so a lot of this we all learned when we were kids from our mothers, it's not what you say, sometimes it's how you say it. So it's not how you listen – you know, what you listen to, but sometimes how you listen to that person, and I think that the reality is, this work is tough. You know, as Georgeann started, how do you take incoming people yelling at you or disagreements? It's not fun. No one wants to be sitting in rooms with arguments all the time, but if we're gonna move things forward past this incredible political, social and economic divide that we have, we're gonna need people like us in the middle to move things forward and to find those win-win solutions, and so the whole hope of this book is to enable us to do that, the whole hope of this talk is to find win-win solutions, and if we're gonna have a hope of bringing our country back together and healing, it's really gonna rely on us, so thank you so much for the ability to talk with you all. My contact information is here, if any of you have any questions or followups, wanna get ahold of me, by all means do so, I'd be happy to help out in any way I can. So thanks, Georgeann.
[Georgeann Moss]: And Kevin, I tell you what, we just had one last minute question come in, and it says, could you please walk us through the table of comments with a few comments about each section? And so if you don't have your book with you, I've got mine.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Oh, the ten things that you can do?
[Georgeann Moss]: Yeah, the question is, can you walk us through your table of contents and just kind of give us a little highlight?
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Sure, Georgeann, I will plead that I need to go off camera for half a second to grab it.
[Georgeann Moss]: Okay.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Okay, all right. So kind of the steps on having a difficult conversation is that – what'd you say?
[Georgeann Moss]: Well no, the question is, could you please walk us through the table of contents with a few comments about each section? So section one, two and three.
[Kevin Wilhelm]: Thank you for clarifying that. So the first section of it is kind of, how do you find common ground, and it really comes down to before you can have the difficult conversation, you have to start the conversation, you have to initiate the conversation. You know, you don't – I liken it to dating, you know, when you're in high school or college at a party, you didn't go up to the person that you really cared about and tell them everything about you. You first listened to find out what you might have in common, and then you find that little nugget where you could kind of start the conversation, and that's what we need to do to kind of start the conversation. In section two, with the case studies, they were the things that I kind of highlighted in my talk, but that go into much more depth with many, many, many more case studies, or how do you actually find win-win solutions with people on opposite sides, whether they're Republicans, Democrats, rural to urban, big business, environmentalists, climate skeptics or advocates, et cetera. Then the last section is really about the communication tools, and there's two aspects of it. One, how to have the difficult conversation, and two the importance of allyship, and we go into – you know, this book came out before the George Floyd incident and Black Lives Matter movement really coming in the mainstream, but the thoughts were already there and are in the book about sometimes, in a difficult conversation, you don't need to be the person with the answer or the person talking, but you need to be the ally. I find all the time that as a white male, and when I'm in rooms with CEOs and executive teams, I'm in a certain point of privilege and I need to be the ally to the women in the room who are advocating for gender pay. I need to be the ally in the room for that member who is in the closet who's in the LGBTQ community and wants to be out, you know. I need to help them set the conversation so that it's not dangerous for them, and so I think that that's kind of how we got the book broken down. The beginning of it is how do you have the conversation, the second part is how do you find common ground, and the conclusion of it is, what are the skills that you need to keep building and honing to continually have the difficult conversations moving forward.