COVID-19 Vaccine Conversations Made a Little Easier…

conflict Oct 05, 2022

Have all things COVID-19, including vaccination status, opened rifts within your family? Are judgment and resentment simmering? Have they reached a boiling point?

Differing opinions can be tricky at the best of times. But add in the spice of family dynamics, a sprinkling of generational disputes, a dollop of in-laws, and the twist of a public health crisis, and you have all the ingredients for a bubbling cauldron of major disputes.

In last week's newsletter, I described the Deflect Or Connection communication strategy. 🔗 You can see the bite-sized version on our socials here. Then I received some requests on how to talk about vaccinations and COVID when there are dramatically different and hardline positions within your own family.

🧡  💬 So, I've created a little communication care package for you and your family this festive period. More on that a little further down.

First I want to share a surprising revelation I had while preparing this newsletter.

This morning I was speaking with a very good friend and colleague on Zoom. We were sharing our family plans for Christmas in the wake of what can only be described (in my opinion) as unclear, negligent, and self-serving guidance from our government here in the UK.

My friend comes from a medical family, and is pro public health, so I assumed that they’d chosen to get vaccinated against COVID. To my surprise, they had not.

Even so, they are pro-vaccination and pro public health measures generally speaking. And they do not describe themselves as an anti-vaxxer.

My friend’s disclosure helped me realise something I hadn’t considered - not all people who are unvaccinated are anti-vaxxers. And then I remembered that things are rarely binary.

Almost all complex problems are nuanced and grey. COVID vaccination is no exception, even though it often feels like it. Unlike Singapore and Indonesia, we are currently not a society that mandates such measures through authority and law. So we are left to muddle through our personal and professional conversations while positions harden from slurry into concrete, and into a winners and losers mindset.

The winners and losers mindset often reduces complex problems into a two sided augment.

You are either pro-vax (and vaccinated) or you are anti-vax (and unvaccinated). Pick your side, stand in your corner, and fight!

And now for my care package, a set of 3 communication opportunities, really.

⚡️ First communication opportunity: Take some charge out of the argument. Step out of the winners and losers mindset, and hold multiple realities alongside each other. You don’t have to come to an agreement, or even agree to disagree. Just hold more than two realities at once. 🔗 You can read more about how to do this in our blog Conflict Beyond Winners & Losers.

Here are examples of non-binary vaccination related positions:

  • Vaccinated, but not comfortable with the position or strategy the government has taken.
  • Not COVID-vaccinated but pro vaccination generally.
  • Took one vaccination, but then didn’t feel comfortable taking the second one due to feeling conflicted about the vaccination policy and/or roll-out.
  • Fully vaccinated while campaigning against the vaccine roll out program and incoming vaccine passports.
  • Strongly anti COVID vaccine, but pro vaccine for diseases such as Measles, TB, HepB or Polio.

As you can see there are many variables here, and perhaps you can already think of people in your life who take these positions.

Now, people who hold very strong positions often feel overwhelmed. Underneath their position is often a defensive and protective response related to a deep fear. On the other hand, it may be a principled response or one based on experience. Once you understand why they believe what they do, you are already one step closer to a healthy conversation and relationship.

⚡️ Second communication opportunity: Use all three types of empathy. Yes, all THREE! By using all three, you can hold greater complexity, relate more deeply, and maintain your own boundaries. Taking time to appreciate and understand their position is not the same as agreeing with them. 🔗 A while back we wrote a blog about the three types. Here’s what you can do:

  • First, relate to their position by understanding their way of thinking (cognitive empathy). Uncover why they think that. What is their rationale?
  • Next, allow yourself to feel what they feel (emotional empathy). Notice how they are expressing themselves. Can you pick up on feelings like fear, anger, anxiety? Allow yourself to feel it just a little so you can better relate to their situation and position.
  • From there, you can gently move the conversation into a place where you are looking at the problem as a complex social issue, rather than as a purely personal issue (compassionate empathy). Now you can discuss it together, rather than point fingers.

⚡️ Third communication opportunity: Choose the life-altering habit of “yes and…” instead of “yes but…” This tiny adjustment moves a conversation forward collaboratively instead of letting it degenerate into an oppositional dynamic. As soon as you feel the heat rising, make a conscious effort to start everything you say with “yes and…”

Now you can offer your point in addition to theirs without having to agree with or even disagree with their point. This simple act creates space for multiple truths to exist simultaneously, and can create an amazing conversion.

It’s also one half of a hilarious game you can play with the family. 🔗 Check out the rules for the game on our socials.

The reality is that some people will remain staunchly averse to nuanced debate, digging their heels in and even being deliberately provocative. By using these strategies you become more communication-flexible. Instead of running headlong into a heated argument, you create the ideal conditions for nuanced conversations.

That being said, sometimes the best way to navigate these things is not to have the conversation at all! (And that’s coming from your in-house communication coach!)

Whatever you decide to do, remember that the choice is yours. Your boundaries are yours to hold. It is perfectly acceptable to simply say, “I would rather not talk about that over the holidays.” and leave it at that.

I hope these strategies find their way into your festive conversations and help to ease any brewing tensions before they bubble over!

With love,

Thea

📌 PS. Here’s a round up of those links again