Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Crucial Conversations about Climate Change

Dear Crucial Skills,

I followed the climate change summit in Copenhagen last December and found it very frustrating to watch world leaders unable to agree on actions they must take to protect the ecological health of our planet. The meetings quickly disintegrated into a discussion about the individual wealth of their own nations.

What crucial conversation would help leaders agree to a plan to preserve the planet’s health—even though this will be at some economic expense to all?

Frustrated with World Leaders

Dear Frustrated,

This is a great and timely question. Resolving climate change will require leaders to address some very sensitive conversations. And as citizens, we can help. When we take an interest and speak up, it encourages our leaders to speak up as well.

Crucial conversations require dialogue. Climate change has been mired in silence and violence for many years. The good news about the Climate Summit in Copenhagen was that more than 130 world leaders came together. Heads of state from five opinion-leader nations (U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa) met for seven hours and negotiated an agreement that forms a framework for a 2010 world summit in Mexico City. The decision-makers are at the table, and dialogue has begun.

It helps to Start with Facts. Another major advance world leaders made at Copenhagen was to agree on a set of facts related to climate change. These facts establish the common ground needed to build solutions. A few of the most significant of these facts are:

  • Increases in global temperatures must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Some countries will be especially hurt by climate change and other countries must support them.
  • Deep cuts in global emissions of CO2 will be required.
  • Developed countries and developing countries will need to follow different paths.

World leaders must now find Mutual Purpose. This gets to the heart of your question. Nations and their leaders look to their national interests, which are often in conflict—at least in the short term. Climate change is a global issue that requires a broader, more long-term view. Remember the question we ask in Crucial Conversations: “What do you really want—for yourself, for others, and for the relationship?” This is the question leaders must ask.

Here are a few crucial conversations where national interests may be in conflict—and mutual purpose must be found. Our leaders would do well to bring these crucial issues to the table:

1. Developed countries, especially the U.S., use the most carbon per person. Developed countries benefit if carbon is capped at the national level, not the per person level. Developing countries, like India and China, use far less carbon per person, but they will soon use the most at the national level. They benefit if carbon is capped at the per person level.

2. Developed countries have proposed a cap-and-trade strategy. This strategy benefits developed countries because it favors rich over poor. Developing countries are hurt by this approach.

3. Developed countries have an obligation to resettle refugees. Island and low-lying countries—places like Bangladesh and Vietnam—will lose large portions of their land mass, producing tens of millions of climate refugees. What obligation do developed countries have to resettle these refugees?

4. Developed countries have benefited the most from carbon use over the last 100 years—and have been responsible for the greatest amount of carbon-related damage. Does this mean they should be held accountable for the damage already caused and pick up a greater share of the repair and resettlement bill?

Soon we must Move to Action. Have you ever been part of a team that got bogged down because the facts were never complete and the options never ideal? When it comes to climate change, we will never have all the facts or a painless solution. But we will have to act anyway. We can’t afford to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

In Crucial Conversations, we recommend to decide how you will decide. Some climate change decisions may involve consensus targets, but most are likely to be consultative or independent. We can’t let the desire for consensus prevent us from taking action either independently or with small groups of other opinion-leader nations.

Finally, when a problem is profound, persistent, and resistant, its solution will require more than a crucial conversation. It will require a full-fledged Influencer strategy. Next week, I will apply our Influencer model to your question.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

56 thoughts on “Crucial Conversations about Climate Change”

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  2. Susan Stein

    I’ve never been more disappointed in a column in the many years I’ve been a subscriber. The question is equivalent to “When did you stop beating your wife?” and David Maxfield just carried on without challenging it. The facts don’t support man-made global warming and even if you call it “Climate Change” that doesn’t make it any more true. Cap and trade is just another attempt at taking over our lives and the economy and anyone who doesn’t believe there’s a lot of money in “global warming” needs to see Al Gore’s new house.

  3. Offended in Virginia

    In your article Crucial Conversations about Climate Change, you went into some detail about issues related to the creation of Mutual Purpose. It is my hope when I read these articles to hear experiences and learn about techniques that will make me more effective in the crucial conversations that I may encounter. It is my understanding that this is the purpose of this publication. With this in mind, I was disappointed that the content of your response seemed to be more about sharing your personal beliefs on climate change, than about helping to engage others in crucial conversations about this topic. Stating the crucial issues 1-4 as fact (..developing countries benefit… for example) gives us insight into your beliefs or knowledge but do not help us understand how to have the conversation. It is my hope that future articles will return to the sharing of techniques and experiences that practice the art of crucial conversation and stay away from the advancement of personal viewpoints.

  4. Steve Wolfrom

    I will continue to subscribe, but I am sorry to say that you have framed the issue with “facts” that do not include all perspectives. You see, what some people call “facts” do not take into account all the information available out the issue so that it puts the facts in perspective.

    If you had discussed how to use the principles of Crucial Conversations to engage in this debate fine, but you entered into the realm of taking a side. You have just lost credibility.

  5. Jeff

    I agree with Steve. Your advice to Start with the Facts is great advice. The problem is, there is differing expert opinion on what the facts really are. I do realize you were simply responding to a question. However, your response does seemed laced with a bias. Still love the emails.

  6. JWB

    I always enjoy reading this newsletter. I’m sure you recieve many questions that you choose from for your article. This one was a dud. Why? Because adressing this question about resolving climate change lends credence to the idea that mankind can do anything about it. The summit itself was a farce. I long for the day that “going green” will be remembered as spending 30% more on a project in order to be politically correct. What a waste of rescources, and a newsletter. Sorry guys… you can’t really be serious.

  7. David Osborne

    Being able to present a compelling argument for a particular view is not the same as having the defensible facts concerning the issue. The best advice on the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) issue is to follow the money and see who really benefits financially from the control on carbon emissions. Also, examine the claims of the “science” involved. The latter is difficult, but necessary, to be sure you are advocating solving a problem rather than furthering the agenda of groups that have much to gain from the Mother-Lode of political power that will come from carbon control legislation.

  8. Susan Jeffers

    Whoa! I must have missed your definition of “facts” — these look more like “assumptions” or “foregone conclusions” to me — I agree with the previous commenter — “you have just lost credibility.”

  9. Susan Jeffers

    oops. I just re-read — you wrote “Another major advance world leaders made at Copenhagen was to agree on a set of facts related to climate change. These facts establish the common ground needed to build solutions. A few of the most significant of these facts are:”

    So I suppose, for the purposes of future discussions among the “world leaders” they can proceed from what they take to be “facts.” I guess I’d just call them “agreed assumptions/conclusions” rather than “facts.”

  10. John Rutledge

    Your discussion of the process for coming to some consensus on global warming is, of course, fine,and appropriate, but in my opinion, you’re taking far too many assumptions as fact. One of the key lessons on Crucial Conversations is separating those two. The validity of the data that much of the debate is based on has been called into serious question. The degree to which mankind is contributing, if even significant, is far from settled. The two degree limit you mentioned is arbitrary and has been for some time. The planet has, over geologic time, swung through temperature changes far greater than that. The political games being played throughout this debate appear to far exceed the true scientific effort. We need far more dependable and non-politicized scientific facts about the cause and the effectiveness of solutions before we start potentially crippling economies for no real benefit.

  11. H Dawson


    Thank you for pointing that out. The “facts” stated are not facts but decisions that were made. They do not represent that facts available that present both sides of the issue. While I agree that Crucial Converstions to discuss the topic must be carried out all perspectives must be presented in order to carry on meaningful debate.

  12. Alan

    I was as disappointed as Steve with your answer. Is this a website about political debate? The facts you used come straight from the groups who have swallowed whole the man made climate change story. Is 2 degrees really the limit on temperature increase? Who decided this in light of the fact that the earth has been hotter and people did just fine? are increases in CO2 the cause or caused by global warming? There is still debate on these issues.
    You have taken a side in the debate. You have used this forum to as a sopa box for your personal beliefs. I have lost respect for you.

  13. Matt Denham

    I’m okay with anyone taking a position on this and will continue to subscribe. I’m curious why world leaders, both political and religious, don’t address world population? I understand it’s how many religions propogate their masses and influence but it’s illogical. Name an issue which affects our human population or ecosystem and the answer is fewer people. Until our leaders muster the courage to address this, we’ll never solve these problems.

  14. David Maxfield

    Thanks Steve. Your comment makes it clear that I didn’t frame my answer very well. Many people are still debating whether climate change is real, whether it is man-made, and whether it needs to be addressed. That is a crucial conversation, but it’s not the crucial conversation I meant to address in my response.

    The original question asked me to address the crucial conversations that “world leaders” were having in Copenhagen. World leaders now agree on many facts that we citizens may still be debating.

    What I meant to focus on is the range of complexities involved in this discussion–even after leaders agree on the basic facts of climate change. Whew! This one will be tough!



  15. Homer Bartlett

    I agree with Steve W. I think one of the reasons the talks broke down is that some consider the “facts” still up for debate, but others think they’re settled and are trying to move forward. Until everyone involved agrees that climate change is real, and that it is caused by humans, we can’t and shouldn’t try to come up with agreements and regulations to control it.

  16. Vidya Sagar

    Dear Mr. David Maxfield,

    Crucial Skills has been an interesting place to read about certain soft-skills related to interpersonal and organizational dynamics. However, when you get out of your area of expertise and act like you “know” that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a “fact” and that it is caused by carbon usage, you instantly lose the site’s long earned credibility.

    I am not sure if you are a scientist or engineer to have your own opinion based on research (and following the research by others), or if you are someone who listens to evening news and believes in global warming. In either case, there is ample proof that facts don’t support AGW. Your first clue should have been when the “global warming community” renamed the issue “climate change”. Your second clue should be all of the fraudulant and unscientific activities that have been perpetrated by the “scientific community” leading the global warming charge – these were in the news multiple times last year.

    Indian Environmental minister has exposed the false claims made by IPCC and its corrupt chairman Rajendra Pachauri (regarding Himalayans glaciers, Brazilian rainforests, etc.). Chinese and Russian observations show the misuse of temperature data and urban island effect at the data stations. The so called “scientists” conspired to suppress raw data and the computer models so their peers couldn’t review. They then claimed they “lost” the raw data. Mann et. al. have blocked publication of skeptical research papers in scientific journals. Does this look like science, or scam?

    If there was any lingering doubt, you should have realized the hoax when Al Gore bought a $9 million oceanfront property in California recently. Al Gore, the global warming prophet who warned us that the sea levels will rise by 15 to 18 feet and made millions from gullible people and governments, has just voted with his feet and money that the sea level is not going rise.

    I would like to see your response, Mr. Maxfield. Hopefully this will be a crucial conversation as well.

  17. Dave Scott

    It looks like the folks in Copenhagen agreed on some stories rather than facts. Stories are useful, but they’re not facts, and the science community can produce genuine, objectively verifiable facts that support opinions on both sides of the stories.

  18. Chris Neff

    I think I just read the outline for Avatar 2: The Cap and Trade Miracle. It seems the realists are missing from this critical conversation.

  19. Kathryn Houck

    I always look forward to these as the situations are for the most part the same situations we run into in a real work environment. But, for me this missed that mark. While I can work to extrapolate some of this to work situations, I am going to gues most of your subscribers are not world leaders trying to be about world peace and enviornmental responsibility. If I wanted theoretical I would pick up any of the 100’s of political, environmental books that are out there. I hope this returns back to the more work related stuff.

  20. Ernie

    Interesting that you have skipped over the crucial point that not all people beleive in this science, and that there have been many revelations that people are using this subject for their own reasons. Presenting these theories(stories) as fact is contrary to everything I have learned from Crucial conversations. Alarmist statements such as “Island and low-lying countries—places like Bangladesh and Vietnam—will lose large portions of their land mass, producing tens of millions of climate refugees. ” cause people to shut off, and disregard the conversation.
    The facts you point to are not facts, but results you desire and beliefs “will need to follow different paths.” “World leaders” also agree on the inhumane treatment of those they do not agree with as well, but that does not mean they are correct.
    Science requires facts, not “agreement” and so does (I thought) Crucial conversations.
    In short, I was very disapointed to see a response like yours that deviated so very much from what Crucial Conversations/Confrontations has taught me. You can not assume that everyone agrees with you and that is why you need to stick to the skills. Pursuavive arguments and well done conversations(Crucial) are still admired even by those who disagree with you. You fell short on this, and your response continues to say that the elite “World Leaders” know what is better for us while their populations still disagree.

    Sad to see this here.

  21. Ken Holet

    DITTO, Steve!!! What unprofessional text to come from what in the past has been an excellent site! Virtually all of his “facts” are not only unproven, they are challenged by many scientists, and recently have been revealed to have been to some degree even manufactured. Meanwhile, one of the cause’s champions (Al Gore) has just bought yet another mansion with over a half dozen bathrooms, which he will no doubt be travelling to with his private jet.

    Indeed, as the author points out, “mutual purpose” is central and crucial to any reconciliation. Unfortunately, the “purpose” of some key Cap-and-Traders is power and control (of the artificially limited resource, and therefore the people who use it), and many countries wisely choose to not follow this path, and that results in them being unfairly labeled. So the one positive thing that this article does is point out that if there is no mutual purpose, then their can be no real reconciliation– e.g., if one country’s stated purpose is the annihilation of the other, is peace between them really a possibility?

    Another thing we can learn from this article is that not only must we state the facts, but both sides must AGREE on those facts (is the earth indeed warming? 30 years ago the assertion was that a calamity was looming because of cooling), and furthermore as in this stated example (global warming), they must also agree on the CAUSES of the facts (did humankind cause it, if so, how? or did sun spots? what caused the last Ice Age? Can we stop the next one?. Only then can the partied discuss possible SOLUTIONS to such problems that serve the Mutual Purpose.

    This article was an example of how to mis-apply some very important skills. I also urge you to return to what you do best.

  22. George Wilhelmsen

    I’m aligned with Steve Wolfrom on this one. Global Warming is one of the most misunderstood issues in our world. We are working on solutions to a problem that depending on the data you look at, is either driven by man and carbon emmissions, or is related to the Magellanic Cycle of our Sun.

    The problem that I see appears to be this: the Global Warming “man-caused” team will not look at the solar cycle inputs, or have dismissed them.

    Burt Rutan has presented a differing view at various aviation conventions that highlights this issue. If you’d like to see it, you can also find the presentation here: (under the Climate Data tab).

    One of the quotes in the presentation appears to provide the current direction that the “Man-Caused” global warming team is taking:

    “Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous (global warming) is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are. ”Al Gore, Grist Magazine, May 9, 2006

    Talk about a Crucial Conversation! Yoikes!

  23. Nick

    Glad to see I am not the only one to feel as I do. I am concerned at the one sided view you protrayed here. There are many facts to support the opposite view as well. You have clearly taken a political stand on what you believe to be true and really did not address the original question. I now question your credibility as well.

  24. Allen Frederick

    Responding to the Crucial Skills newsletter vol. 8, issue 18 of May 15, 2010:

    Mr. Maxfield says “It helps to start with facts”, however he then presents assumptions:

    1) “Increases in global temps must be limited to 2 deg. C” Why? Is this a fact or an assumption?

    2) “Some countries will be especially hurt by climate change and other countries must support them.” HOW will countries be hurt, factually? Will any countries be helped? Why have countries not been hurt in the past due to warm or cool cycles?

    3) “Deep cuts in global emissions of CO2 will be required.” Is this a fact, or an action-item? WHY will cuts be needed? What will happen if they aren’t made? WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

    I understand that this issue is very important in the minds and hearts of many who care about our planet. That said, NOTHING is more important than identifying the facts of an issue and separating them from assumptions, emotions, proposals, false data, etc.

    35 years ago, we were told the earth was entering a new ice age and we would all freeze to death after using up the earth’s fuel supply. Interestingly, I never heard the facts to back that up. I didn’t panic then, and I’m not panicking now.

    I agree with Mr. Maxfield. We MUST start with the facts. The Copenhagen summit would have gone a lot more smoothly if all the attendees were Vulcans and the discussions presented logically.


  25. Laurie

    I don’t think using global warming/climate change is a good topic choice to highlight crucial conversations. It is, in my opinion, a very political and subjective topic. Things that appear to be “facts” to you, are not “facts” to me. Thank you for your consideration.

  26. frank

    wow. i have enjoyed and benefited from your advice over the years, but you have lost credibility with me today. “Start with facts?” If Only!Would that your answer did rely on facts rather than your political bias and unproven assumptions.
    Starting and ending with facts would go a long way to resolving the “climate change” (whatever happened to the “Global freeze” of the 70s/80’s and “Global warming” of the past decade?); instead you tell a “story” that fails to meet the high criteria for Crucial Conversations.

  27. Carl Johnson

    I am very disappointed that David Maxfield decided to take on a subject that is getting to be more and more nothing than a political manipulation as a topic. This type of subject might have been a good example of a “Crucial Conversation” if he hadn’t totally shown himself to buy in to the “it’s all rich human’s / USA’s fault” argument that is more and more being debunked. Like David said “Crucial conversations require dialogue” and one side of the conversation has been shout out way to long.
    The reason that the climate change summit in Copenhagen last December, quickly disintegrated into a discussion about the leaders own nations individual wealth was that the junk science was starting to be found out for what it was. There were people that were finally trying to “start with the facts” but they found they didn’t have many “facts” at all.

  28. Jeff Sullivan

    I was dismayed to see that you have taken the opportunity to use your otherwise useful newsletter to promote a world action that is fraught with misinformation and fraud. The actions being proposed will be an economic hardship to certain countries (the United States and Great Britain) while doing nothing to reign in the countries that have done little or nothing to decrease their pollution levels (China for one). By using the term ‘climate change’ you have partaken in changing the debate from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’. The climate always changes and we cannot do anything to stop it. It varies over time. In the 70s, we were headed for an ice age. As recently as a couple of years ago, we were going to be inundated with rising waters due to melting glaciers (Al Gore doesn’t really believe that based on the location of his new house in California).

    The facts are

    that the world temperatures have been decreasing over the past few years
    the major players in retrieving (or producing as it turns out) data have been caught in their deception
    and that the major cheerleader for this effort (Al Gore) doesn’t practice what he preaches.

    I would like to be clear. I am not saying that pollution is not a problem (although I will say that CO2 is not a poison as it has been labeled. I don’t think the plants that produce the oxygen that we breathe would think so either; if they could think). I believe we should do what we can, when cost effective, to increase the quality of air and water and provide a good environment for future generations. What I am saying, is that the Kyoto Treaty and other efforts like it (Cap and Trade) are methods to distribute the wealth produced by the ‘haves’ directly to the ‘have nots’. It is pure Socialism.

    The newsletter presented is as slanted an argument as can be produced. Aside from the fact that some of the statements being made are in error or may only be partial truths, the other side is not presented at all. Based on the lack of evidence and the distortion of the facts, the best course of action for the world leaders to take is to do nothing. Enacting punishing rules and regulations to the detriment of the world economy would have drastic and lasting effects.

    If action is taken as it has been proposed, then Frustrated’s statement will be proved to be true; “. . . this will be at some economic expense to all”. If the countries that are the economic leaders in the world fail, the poor countries of the world will be doomed.

  29. Jeff Sullivan

    @George Wilhelmsen You mean the sun has something to do with how warm our planet is? Astounding! Somebody should look into that. Preferably before I go to Florida again and freeze my tail off because it’s so cold!

  30. David Maxfield

    Please keep your comments coming! Some have questioned whether such a political issue should be discussed in this kind of forum. What do you think? It certainly fits our definition of a crucial conversation: differing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions. My hope is that it can help us see how to navigate a crucial conversation when we feel personally involved.

    Susan makes the comment that my “facts” are of the “have you stopped beating your wife” variety. Ouch! Again, I want to differentiate between the “facts” we can all discuss and the “facts” that the BASIC group of nations (Brazil, America, South Africa, India, China) have agreed to. Many of you have said I’d have been more accurate to call these “assumptions” not “facts”. Good point!

    There is a way that this dispute among world leaders illustrates a problem I think we all face. It’s what Alexander George at Stanford calls “Uncertainty” and “Value Complexity.”

    Uncertainty. George studies presidential decision making, and says that presidents can rarely wait for all the facts to come in. They have to make decisions–knowing they could be wrong. Simple decisions, where all the facts present themselves are made several levels below the president.

    Value Complexity. A president’s decisions, even the best ones, will inevitably hurt and even kill people. None of the decisions that make it to a president’s level wear white hats. They all have troubling sides that are inevitable.

    I think these characteristics “uncertainty” and “value complexity” are involved in our own decisions as parents, employees, and managers. We might be right about our facts, but we then again we might not be. And our actions might have unintended consequences for people we love. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed. However, humility is a good thing.

    World leaders don’t have all the fact in. I’m sure many still have questions. And no one knows what all the consequences will be. We know people will be hurt, no matter what their decisions are.

    However, let’s keep the dialogue open. There are lots of tough emotional challenges ahead.


  31. Garry Winterland

    I’m VERY disappointed in you. I look forward to your emails and have learned so much about how to have conversations. I’m very grateful to you for that. However, with this newsletter below, you have now attempted to insult my intelligence. It has been made very clear that evidence previously used to prove the occurrence of global warming was either falsified, lied about or exaggerated. For obvious political and financial gain, many have sought to suppress the true data. Not to mention, even if earth’s climate is warming, it would be impossible for humans have an impact on changing that, positively or negatively.

    With that said, I still believe it’s important that we all do our part to recycle, use renewable energy sources, conserve, and do everything we can to take care of this great planet that God created for us. However, this should be done by each of us on our own, through our own free will.

    Since we have no reliable evidence that humans have caused or can slow global warming, or even that it’s actually occurring, it makes no sense to expend severe effort and financial resources to solve it. Until such unbiased evidence is presented, NO government should be forcing its people to do anything, either through physical effort or financial contribution, with respect to this cause. People should be given the freedom to use their own resources (both time and money) to support efforts of their choosing.

    Please get back to doing what you do best.

  32. Bill Bush

    I very much enjoy your Crucial Skills newsletter–except the May 15, 2010 issue. I was disappointed as I read David Maxfield’s column that he allowed his own agenda about climate change to infiltrate the discussion about how to conduct a crucial conversation. He pointed out that “It helps to Start with Facts”, then proceeded to list items that have not been shown to be factual. For example, “Deep cuts in global emissions of CO2 will be required” or “Developed countries … have been responsible for the greatest amount of carbon-related damage.” Perhaps, but neither has been confirmed. Just share the process with us please, and let us come to our own conclusions.

  33. David Edgeworth

    I, too, was disappointed in this newsletter about climate change, as the so-called “facts” have been highly exaggerated and are not a good basis for making policy on. I recommend that David Maxfield read the 2009 book “Climate of Extremes.” There are several similar books but this seems the most reasonable, goes into some necessary detail, yet is only 227 pages and I highly recommend it. The author shows there is a solid body of studies (which unfortunately is not well publicized) showing that humans make a real but modest contribution to global warming – through all causes, by year 2100 the average temperature will likely rise by about 3 degrees F (1.6 C) and the oceans will rise by less than a foot (30 cm). These are changes we’ll have plenty of time to adapt to so we don’t need to overreact by declaring carbon dioxide (which is plant food!) a dangerous pollutant and restricting its emission. The worst-case scenario of a runaway greenhouse effect is extremely unlikely.

    Getting to the heart of the matter, chapter 7 shows that there is substantial publication bias in two popular journals, Science, and Nature. These journals publish much more of the alarmist studies which are based on less reliable studies, than the more convincing non-alarmist studies. For one, there is not a transparent peer review process, and for another, the non-alarmist studies are deemed less news-worthy. Then the media compounds the problem by quoting the extreme predictions from the alarmist studies. The author spends much of the book debunking the alarmist scenarios (that a significant amount of Greenland ice will melt, large numbers of people will die of heat-related causes, there will be more destructive hurricanes and fires, etc.). Every one of these claims is clearly contradicted by less-publicized but more reputable studies and physical evidence.

    Some scientists (James Hansen of NASA) and environmental activists (Al Gore) are highly publicized but biased people. They depend on research funding and selling books and have a strong financial motive to emphasize extreme predictions. They love their cause (and maybe they love publicity, too) and thus feel the ends justify the means (exaggeration). As the “climategate” scandal (hacked emails from a British university indicate that some climate scientists were knowingly exaggerating the effect of humans on climate change) shows, they, along with teachers, professors, politicians, and the media, are not an intellectual elite to be blindly trusted; rather, they are as prone to bias and exaggeration as any other group of people. In any field it just takes a vocal minority of exaggerators to drown out the more thoughtful people whose silence doesn’t mean they agree with the current fad or hype.

    Unfortunately, the biased coverage of climate change leads to (1) environmentalism becoming a new religion for some students and older people who become unnecessarily fearful that extremely unlikely bad things could happen to our planet, (2) alarmist environmentalists taking away some research funding that could be better spent fighting real problems such as cancer, and (3) unnecessary laws, such as cap-and-trade, being proposed that would be harmful to the economy. The switch to alternative energy sources will occur naturally over time as fossil fuels are used up. As usual, letting free market forces work is more effective than expensive and unnecessary legislation and/or treaties.

  34. CJ

    I am appalled that you used your business site to pontificate about your personal beliefs about climate change. This is the same as if you told people they were going to hell because they were not of a certain religion. Your views are not shared by many including me. Please concentrate of the mission of this site and not use it to further your personal politicl beliefs.

    A profund apology to the Crucial Conversations readers is in order.

  35. James

    I was very disappointed in the response from David Maxfield to the Climate Change question. He sounded like a politician reading from talking points and not considering that there is another side to the issue. The response should have been to start with heart, instead of his phoney facts. Starting with heart may expose the fact that there are many different agendas behind climate change that have nothing to do with the climate and everything to do with $.

  36. Suzanne

    David, you said in one of your responses that “World leaders now agree on many facts that we citizens may still be debating.” The problem with that statement is that something doesn’t become a “fact” just because it’s labeled as such by world leaders. The items listed in your article under “Start with Facts” can hardly be categorized as actual facts. Saying that increases in global temperatures must be limited by 2 degrees Celsius is an opinion, not a proven fact. CO2 emissions have not been proven to cause global warming, so to say that they must be curtailed in order to reduce global temperatures is clearly not a fact. It has not even been proven that we tiny humans have the ability to control the temperatures of our vast and complex planet to such a degree.

    The content and slant of your article truly damaged the credibility of any point you were trying to make. This is obviously an emotional topic, with emotions running high on both sides of the issue. You failed right out of the gate by listing statements based on opinion, conjecture and political agendas as facts. The global economic consequences of allowing world leaders to make decisions using this flawed line of thinking could be more devastating to life as we know it than any consequences of climate change, natural or otherwise. CrucialSkills fans deserve better. Shame on you.

  37. Shana

    It is unfortunate that the comments regarding this are article have turnedg into a format for people to voice their own political opinions, rather than addressing the question being addressed. The letter being responded to questioned how political leaders holding a crucial conversation could forward that conversation into action, and how citizens could promote this process. Personally, I am a member of this website in seeking ways to improve my own crucial conversation skills. I am quite interested in how this can be related to conversations being held by world leaders, particularly since these examples are visible to the entire world and may or may not be the best way to approach the conversation.
    I request that list participants stop using this as a format to post their political opinions as this is not the purpose of the list.

  38. Jeff Sullivan


    I think the point is that the article itself was political in nature. Part of the communication process itself is seeking to understand the opposition’s points. The article, as it is written, does none of that, but simply assumes that the so-called ‘facts’ are undisputed and therefore is the level playing ground that the politicians are looking for on which to unite. It just isn’t so. If it were, they would have come to a conclusion and a solution. Suggesting that this ‘common ground’ is what should be used to formulate action is absurd if the so-called facts have sand as their foundation.

  39. Elaine Starling


    Another brillant job at focusing on the issue at hand: how to have a crucial conversation about a volatile topic. Your article is based on the facts of what was decided and agreed upon at the Climate Change Summit. You outline some alternative considerations – all of which include a lot of “uncertainty” and “value complexity.”

    Regardless of whether one agrees that climate change is real or not, your example of a Crucial Conversation is BRILLIANT. Often what fosters conversation is presenting a polarizing view! This elicits participation – something sadly lacking in our society. Too often we think the problem should be handled by “someone else” so we never bother to voice our perspective. I’m delighted to see that some people are paying attention and have strong beliefs they are eager to share.

    The new economy requires that we Connect, Contribute, and Collaborate to move our businesses forward. Doing that requires having Cruicial Conversations where we respect, honor and value a variety of opinions we might not agree with – yet still need to hear, allow and encourage.

    Thanks for getting the ball rolling! Great job!

  40. Doug

    Of all the columns I have read from the folks at Vital Smarts, this is the most disappointing. While the process that Dave recommends is fine, he says that the leaders must start with the facts. Those that he outlines are not facts, but an agenda masquerading as facts. They do not have scientific consensus and more evidence continues to come forth raising questions about the whole issue. Then he says we must move to action soon. Wow, rather than advice, this feels like his agenda.

  41. David B

    Hi David,

    You’ve appeared to have opened a Pandora’s box with this article.

    I had to contain myself from writing a correcting comment, regarding what you stated as facts, until I read the above comments and felt appeased.
    Initially I too had been taken-in by Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and would consider any thinking opposed to reducing carbon emission as foolish. This was until I found myself arguing with a colleague I knew and respected. I did some research on this subject and now my views have changed 180 degrees.

    The above strong comments and your reply’s has shown me that I now find myself considering anyone who supports AGW as foolish and needing correction.
    For issues which I perceive as self evident, I often find myself loosing respect for others who have an opposing view and feel strong emotions taking over.

    As an engineer at times I find myself attacking others with facts they disagree with. When this happens respect is lost on both sides.

    In one of your books you mentioned this as lizard brain thinking.
    If there was any evidence for the theory of evolution this may be it;-)

    As I first stated, you’ve opened a Pandora’s box and I am keen to see how this is handled.

    Thanks again.

  42. Karen Lloyd

    Please don’t use this forum to spread propaganda. There is no such thing as global warming and requirement for carbon emissions monitoring, etc. This is political hype – the proceeds enjoyed by Al Gore, David Suzuki; and Maurice Strong and their ilk. Through the centuries changes have occurred; and they will continue to occur. We are dots on the universe, in charge of nothing.
    Crucial conversations has been a helpful site – don’t go to imaginary places – next we will be discussing Alice in Wonderland!

  43. Allen Frederick

    To David Maxfield:

    You asked whether such a political issue should be discussed in such a forum.

    When I took the Crucial Conversations class, an example was presented of a meeting attended by both pro-life and pro-choice attendees, and they were all asked to agree on one item. Nobody in our class could guess it; we all thought it was too political. The answer was that they agreed they all wanted to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

    We CAN discuss ANYTHING if we focus on mutual goals and build our arguments on the basic building blocks: FACTS.

    It sounds like we in this forum need to agree on the definition of “facts.” I’m seeing the equivalent of “Well, what might be the facts for you are not the facts for me.” What?

    “2 + 2 = 4” is a fact, for each of us. Shouldn’t every item we call a fact be valid for each of us as well?

    If not, I’ve got more important things to do…


  44. Trini Eiche

    Upon reading your advice colums, which unfortunately discusses only the politically correct opinion on climate change, you have utterly lost any credibility you had with me. Have you not been following the news?
    Aren’t you aware of the egregious fakery presented in the data of Michael Mannm as well as the Univerity of East Anglia in the UK? Do you not realize that if Cap and Trade is enacted, our economy would suffer immensely, as fuel and utility rates skyrocket?
    I’m cancelling my subscription.

  45. Ben Semadeni

    I was disgusted with this column to the point that I was moved to leave a comment; however, the more I think about it, the more I am glad it was written. It illustrates to me that even the “experts” totally botch the process. It gave an excellent example of what happens if you stray from the principles of crucial conversations. Often times we feel we are following each step perfectly when in reality we are omitting the most fundamental concepts. It shows me that no matter how eloquent a person is, if you start wrong, you cannot proceed effectively until you go back and correct your mistakes. I would love to see you take another stab at this topic. (I am interested in seeing the “facts” that both sides will agree on.)

  46. Don Ball

    The issue with global warming is the science. It is not that the science is wrong. It is the way the information has been manipulated to provide the outcome. The EPA has determined that Carbon Dioxide is a green house gas. Does this mean we all need to stop exhaling?

    Fact is, no one know what is happening with the atmosphere or the climate.

  47. Ed Cotter

    I’ll make an observation that seems to be the unpopular one from what I’ve read. David used the context of the summit to demonstrate what Crucial Conversation need to be employed by World Leaders. He did use figures and examples of where leaders where showing signs of growth and where improvement was needed. I took what he was disgusted about was the fact that World Leaders are very good at blaming other World Leaders and not sitting at the table to deal with growing issues objectively, hence using Crucial Conversation skills. Maybe I’m too liberal, but I didn’t take this as a political statement, just use of a political situation to demonstrate how Crucial Conversation skills should be used. Everyone of you saw a political hot potato used as an example and immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was a politically slanted rant with a dash of Crucial Conversations, based on my interpretation of your comments.

    David, maybe you need to write a book about Crucial Reading. The English language allows for many interpretations of word usage and meaning. I feel this was taken way out of context. Just my opinion, just as you were able to express yours.

  48. Ed Cotter

    I’ll make an observation that seems to be the unpopular one from what I’ve read. David used the context of the summit to demonstrate what Crucial Conversation skills need to be employed by World Leaders. He did use figures and examples of where leaders where showing signs of growth and where improvement was needed. I took what he was disgusted about was the fact that World Leaders are very good at blaming other World Leaders and not sitting at the table to deal with growing issues objectively, hence using Crucial Conversation skills. Maybe I’m too liberal, but I didn’t take this as a political statement, just use of a political situation to demonstrate how Crucial Conversation skills should be used. Everyone of you saw a political hot potato used as an example and immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was a politically slanted rant with a dash of Crucial Conversations, based on my interpretation of your comments.

    David, maybe you need to write a book about Crucial Reading. The English language allows for many interpretations of word usage and meaning. I feel this was taken way out of context. Just my opinion, just as you were able to express yours.

  49. Steve

    @David Osborne
    Follow the money is right. Wal-Mart’s green initiative is all about amassing carbon and other green credits in an assumption they will be able to resell them at a premium at auction, possibly a world market, according to some plans. I do not oppose green, but the way some of the solutions are structured are definitely schemes to benefit some at the expense of others. A good example is that California would get carbon credits for some of its hydropower. What? And why should they be auctioned, which drives up the price? Why should speculators be allowed to bid? The answer to the last two is that it would raise money to pay off the national debt (health care), but that got leaked out and caused a firestorm. So, they backtracked and said the money would be used to offset the energy bills of the less fortunate. See how it works? The environmental game is about much more than cleaning up the planet.

  50. Jackie

    It seems to me that people are forgetting that the process of conversation must take place with for some unpalatable ideas. It is disappointing to see that some who comment feel that all the ‘facts’ are on the other side. That approach will not move the crucial conversation forward in what is evident in loss of forests, changing of water tables and other natural occurrences that will force us to change. I believe that the idea of change is the fear behind the vigorous commenting that has occurred. We must continue to be open enough to listen to others and not blast others’ statements in order to close off important crucial conversations.

  51. Toni Graybill

    Hi David,
    Your response to this article, and this article, bring up a great question I have. I just read Crucial Conversations, learned some great principals, and immediately put them to use with a very difficult person I work with. But one thing you don’t address, and one of my greatest challenges, is how do you handle a conversation when you know the other side is just flat wrong and you know their goal is to win at any cost, even if it means the destruction of other’s freedom to add meaning to the conversation pool and ultimately destroy their freedom to choose their direction in life? In other words, there are people for whom facts are “inconvenient truths” and who use pseudo facts as bludgeons.

    For example, in your article you ask how we will manage the refugee crisis? In free societies, in wealthy and generous societies, there are many ways that misfortunes are overcome by private organizations. Decade after decade the private citizens in the US have intervened in tsunamis, earthquakes, famines and floods in other nations. Government response is much slower. If you destroy the engine of freedom with artificial controls like carbon credits, and trust only to the governments to solve problems, you will find much greater suffering among mankind. Governments are not driven by love and a sense of charity but rather by the need to control.

  52. Raymond Lines

    I am concerned that your suggestions on how to influence the climate debate did not include any serious thought about who should make the decisions, and what data should be used.
    There are many, many good players in the climate debate. I have worked with climate researchers for two decades. Each looks at part of the data. The overall science community is responsible for synthesizing the disparate inputs into a cohesive whole that can be understood. We have seen by why of the “climate gate” problem that the free flow of ideas has not been allowed at the science level in this debate. To a scientist, this is the ultimate fraud, to subvert the falsification process by silencing other scientist’s voices. I was very disappointed that you seem to have missed this important point in the climate debate—forced silence. Can anything be more opposed to the VitleSmarts view point?
    But I also want to challenge the idea that the “decision makers” you identified are “the right people” to make this decision. So often in my industrial career I have found that the words “decision makers” mean a set of people who don’t have the training or expertise to understand a problem, and actually feel this qualifies them to make decisions because they are not biased by the details. They skim (I have found they very seldom read) extractions of reports which are in turn reductions of reports where actual facts lie. The reductions are so far from the facts, that good decisions are impossible even if the “decision maker” has the expertise to understand what they are skimming. Edward Tuft, in his classic series of books on the display of quantitative data, gives a compelling argument that just such “decision making” lead to the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and all her crew. Our world politicians, with their individual agendas on their national and personal levels, and their lack of understanding of the underlying science, are hardly in a position to make good choices in solving a world crisis, even if the organizations who wrote the reports had been honest. The idea you present that “facts” can be “agreed upon” by these “decision makers” is frightening. If the science community can only agree by silencing dissent, how reliable is an “agreement” on “facts” arrived at by non-scientist politicians? Is it likely that such a body can plot a successful path to maintaining a health climate?
    I want to stress I am not talking about climate change content (I believe the world’s climate is changing), but about how this important issue is debated and how the decision on action will be made—both crucial conversation skills. Whether operating a business, a shuttle, or a planet, if we divorce the decisions from people who can understand the topic, and we subvert dissention, we cannot expect to be successful. With the world’s climate and its people’s lives at stake, we cannot afford such decision making.

  53. Elizabeth

    Even in a forum about dealing with differences of opinion in dialogue, there ought to be a way to deal with the need for scientific consensus to actually be acknowledged. It is true that not everyone is convinced that humans are contributing to global warming. It is true that no one can force anyone else to change his or her thoughts. It is not true that anthropogenic climate change is a matter of opinion. It is not true that the conclusions “Humans are causing climate change” and “Humans are not causing climate change” are equal. The first is supported by strong agreement among respected international scientific bodies. How can we acknowledge the validity of the scientific process that has already taken place without squashing other people’s right to free speech?

  54. Elizabeth

    @David Osborne
    As opposed to the people who benefit financially from denying the effect of burning fossil fuels on the climate?

  55. Michael

    I could not agree more with Ed Cotter’s assessment of your article. My chosen profession requires me to read documents and data with an eye for understanding what it is the author is stating. Many of those that replied to your article obviously did not take the time to analyze the points you were trying to make. I took away that you were merely using a current example (and I might add – a great example) to illustrate to us, the readers, that the use of Crucial Conversations is severly lacking in today’s politics.

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