COVID-19 isn’t likely to disappear any time soon. So we are going to have to learn how to get along with family and friends who disagree about how seriously to take the coronavirus.
Even leaving aside the extreme positions — COVID is the modern bubonic plague vs. it’s a plot by the Illuminati to control us — there are enough genuinely different opinions to create a social minefield.
Is a refusal to shake hands a sensible precaution or a snub? When is it necessary to wear a mask? How strict is the 6-foot physical distancing standard?
How do those who want to be careful make that known to those who aren't quite as cautious without causing a rift? Experts have some ideas:
1. Be calm and direct
“Generally speaking the best way to handle this is to state your intention without shaming/blaming the other person,” said Karen Valencic, founder of Spiral Impact and a leadership consultant who trains people how to deal with conflict and solve problems. “For example: ‘I am social distancing. It’s OK if you feel different. This is where I am right now.’
“If you get indignant or hostile, the other person digs in more.”
2. Use humor
“People can become defensive if they think someone, particularly a peer, is trying to tell them what to do. By bringing some lightness and humor to your request, they may be able to hear you from a more open stance,” said Lauren Cook, a speaker and author who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. “For example, you may say, 'I bet your face would look extra handsome with a mask on!' instead of 'You need to wear a mask now.'"
3. Be flexible
“Make sure to view your boundaries as something that can change with time,” said Eric Patterson, a professional counselor and a writer for Choosing Therapy. “Plan to reassess and rethink your boundaries often. Even if the person does not like where your boundaries stand now, let them know that you are flexible and willing to change later.”
4. Be polite
“Please and thank you go a long way,” Cook said. “Kindly asking someone to wear a mask or socially distance can help them feel less on edge and more inclined to help. Rewarding positive response behavior with an affirmation like ‘I really appreciate it’ adds your sense of gratitude. Just make sure you're aware of your tone as well. If you say polite words, but with a sarcastic tone, it causes the complete opposite effect.”
5. Be creative
“If it’s difficult to get together due to differences in perspectives and risk tolerance levels, try to get creative,” said Julie Kolzet, a psychologist and editorial board member at Psycom.net. “Go beyond Zoom. How about old-fashioned letter writing? Print photos. Consider putting them in an album to send to your loved one.”
6. Draw the line
“If someone is not willing to meet your requests, don't enable their behavior,” Cook said. “They will intrinsically learn that you don't mean what you say when you give in immediately to their bending of the rules. You can simply say, 'Until we can all wear masks and socially distance, I'm going to stay home for now. Thank you for respecting my decision.'"