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Communication Lessons from Greta Thunberg

This remarkable young climate change activist from Sweden is able to achieve more in a 3 minute speech than hundreds of thousands people across the world have achieved in the last 3 years of marching in streets, and waving banners calling for government action on climate change.

How this recent Nobel Prize nominee does it with such powerful efficacy to garner global attention every time she delivers an address, provides some valuable lessons in communication that for me, are inspirational.

Lesson 1. No Theatrics

Greta simply looks her audience in the eye and engages them with a calm, purposeful sincerity of speaking truth to power that is captivating.

Lesson 2. Human Insight

She uses the strength of her youthfulness to provide her adult audience with the human insight of her generation’s fears and hopes of the future that faces them and their concern about the condition of the planet they will inherit.

Lesson 3. Remain Focused

Greta is not distracted by any trepidation of her elite adult audience being dismissively intimidating figures of authority. She does not mince her words either and remains on message to tell it like it is with a succinct focus.

Her concentration of thought ability, strangely enough, is probably largely due to her having been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. It is an obsessive-compulsive disorder with selective mutism, meaning Greta only speaks when she feels compelled to do so. But as she explained with her characteristic candour on TEDx Talk, she regards her condition as a gift.

“We aren’t very good at lying and we don’t normally enjoy participating in the social game that the rest of you seem so fond of”.

 Lesson 4. Tweet Tailored Quotes

Greta’s messages, which are always delivered with such self-confidence and forthright composure, contain a tweet perfect quote in practically every sentence she utters. She demonstrates a remarkably ‘savvy’ understanding of the efficacy of lucidly concise ‘sound bites’ on social media.

Lesson 5. Message and Meaning

Human communication functions on external messages and their internal interpretation of meaning by the message receivers. The incorrectly understood, biased, or purposefully skewed interpretations of meaning is where so much human communication falters, fails or gives rise to falsehoods.

Greta bravely leaves no ‘wiggle room’ for misinterpretation by her audience. Her message and meaning are in perfect sync. Action is required and the enablers in her audience cannot continue to shamefully sit on their hands and avoid accountability for their dereliction of moral duty.

Her autism contributes to her tendency to view topical climate change issues from a black or white perspective. “Either we limit the warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels, or we don’t. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival”.

Lesson 6. Cutting Through Political Obfuscation

The adage of ‘honesty being the best policy’ is the communication policy Greta has adopted and that has struck a chord of such amazing resonance that she has become a worldwide personality of considerable note and media attention.

Lesson 7. Committed Activism

Greta ‘bunks’ school every Friday to stand outside the Swedish Parliament, an action that she has vouched to do until her government signs up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Her public protest has received wide social media and news channel attention that has generated a controversial debate about the thousands of school children globally that have missed classes to follow her activist example.

She counters any criticism with the disarming and thought provoking argument of; “What is the point of spending so much time on education for a future that may not exist”.

1. Greta Thunberg at the UN COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland

‘‘You are not mature enough to tell it like it is when it comes to tackling climate change therefore, I’ll have do it for you”.

2. Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

 “Will you stand on the right side of history and do whatever it takes?”

3. Greta Thunberg’s Speech at the Davos World Economic Forum

“I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

4. Greta Thunberg to EU President Jean-Claude Juncker

“We started to clean up your mess, stop sweeping the mess under the carpet”.

Any possible criticism that because of her youth, Greta lacked an in-depth understanding of the factual data that underpins the European Union’s climate change policies, she convincingly discounted with this compelling and insightfully knowledgeable address to the European Parliament in Brussels.

5. Greta Thunberg on TEDx Talk Stockholm

“We can’t change the world by playing to rules that don’t work. The rules have to change and that has to start now”.

For me this is her most powerfully compelling address to date that motivated me to view the video several times and I will, without a doubt, do so again soon.