COVID-19 requires tough choices balancing social distancing, gathering with friends and family and going out in public. These decisions can come with a whole slew of hard conversations. Tricia Larson, Director of Behavioral Health Outpatient Services at UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace, gives us some pointers on how to discuss your pandemic preferences.
Why It’s Important to Have COVID-19 Conversations
Having conversations with spouses, family members and/or friends around public outings or social gathering is key to feeling confident in your decisions.
“Conversations can be tough for a variety of reasons,” Larson says. “Speaking up can generate feelings of anxiety and nervousness, especially if your thoughts and opinions are different from the other person. Sharing can be a vulnerable experience. Being assertive and speaking up also requires a level of responsibility not only for our words but by our corresponding actions.”
While you might feel anxious or nervous, open communication is critical for healthy relationships.
“Each person will have their own comfort level about public scenes. Evaluating and making decisions can be stressful. During times of stress, disagreements can surface. Therefore, it’s important to have these conversations early to give each person the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns,” Larson says.
Talking to Your Family About Social Distancing vs Gathering with Others or Visiting Public Space
- Set aside time. To signal an important topic of conversation, set aside time. This could be at the dinner table or another established time. Parents/caregivers should have an initial conversation before including the entire family.
- Set expectations. Let everyone know it’s a safe place to exchange thoughts, ideas and make decisions together.
- Ask open-ended questions. Open communication allows the discussion to reach a solution. Try these: What are you comfortable doing? What are you uncomfortable doing? What will help you feel supported? How do you feel about the changes and ability to attend X?
- Keep the focus. It’s easy to spiral to other topics. Focus on keeping your conversation centered on the task at hand.
- Allow everyone to share. To have a conversation doesn’t mean you need to agree. Allow each person to share and contribute to the conversation.
- Reach a solution. Before beginning, decide what needs to be determined. Perhaps it’s simply whether your family is OK with eating indoors at restaurants or going to a friend's house for dinner. Take time at the end to recap the decisions you’ve made.
- End on a positive note. This should be the easy part. Pat everyone on the back for participating and sharing their thoughts and feelings.
How to Talk with Friends about COVID-19
“Friendships have a trusting foundation to build upon. This probably isn’t the first time in the relationship that you’ve had to decline an invitation, or the first time you have had a difference of opinions,” Larson says.
Staying connected to friends has definitely been more difficult during COVID-19 so many are eager to plan events and invite friends to join.
Don’t feel comfortable with the invite? Try these responses:
- For casual relationships: “I’m unable to join or attend this weekend, thank you for the invitation.”
- For close relationships: “Thank you for the invitation, we are unable to attend this weekend. Right now, we are keeping our interactions to immediate family. We do appreciate you thinking of us and your understanding. I hope the event/party goes well. Please ask again.”
Need a way to agree to disagree, Larson says here are responses you could use:
- Turning down an invite: “I hear what you are saying. It sounds like you are comfortable going to this event, I’m just not there yet. While I can appreciate where you are coming from, I’m concerned about attending. I hope you enjoy the event and thank you for the invitation.”
- Getting turned down: “It sounds like you’re uncomfortable going to this event. Let me know if, or when, that changes. I appreciate you letting me know how you feel. I can’t wait to hang out with you again.”
How to Handle an Argument Around COVID-19 Decisions
If you feel an argument coming on, or you find yourself in the middle of a heated argument with a friend or family member – take a pause.
“If the conversation is escalating and emotions like anger, blame or fear are driving the conversation, it’s time to step away. When emotions are high, it’s difficult to think clearly and make good decisions. It can be easy to say something you might soon regret,” Larson says.
Keep these responses in mind for arguments:
- "I need some time to think about that."
- "I need a moment to pause. I can feel my frustration rising, this is important, let’s break for 5 minutes and come back together to finish this conversation."
- "I need a minute to reset. I’m upset, and I don’t want to say something I might regret. Please give me a few minutes. This conversation is important."
Overall, even if you disagree with a friend on their stance on social distancing, there are ways to maintain the relationship. Larson says to remember to always remain respectful and honest during any conversations. Avoid blame and validate the other person’s point of view.
Here are ways to validate someone’s views:
- "I hear what you are saying."
- "I disagree and have a different viewpoint. However, I respect where you are coming from."
- "Moving forward, this is my boundary and what I’m most comfortable with."
- "Your feelings are important to me and I look forward to celebrating in ways that are comfortable for both of us."
“You can do this! Effective communication is an important life skill that fosters healthy relationships. You can use these tips during COVID-19 discussion, but they also work for all other conversations,” Larson says.
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