Communication for a COVID Holiday
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Communication for a COVID Holiday

While COVID may be keeping us at home, it is definitely bringing out the stresses in our relationships. For months now, many people have been noticing the differences between how they and their extended family members or friends are following precautions. Some are under fire for taking the mitigation measures too seriously, while others feel attacked for not taking them seriously enough. All of this tumult is happening when we need the comfort and support of our friends and family more than ever.

Especially as the holidays approach, we need to have some honest conversations. Talking it out is the only way to preserve our relationships and make peace with our own and our family members’ decisions about how to behave during this very unusual time. The Vermont Department of Health recommends having the “COVID Talk.” It’s a way to talk about what you expect of your friends and family members and what they can expect of you. Here’s how:

Before you get together, ask questions about what your host or guests has been doing to stay healthy and who else they have been socializing with, when, where, and how. Avoid blaming or shaming if they have been more relaxed than you have. Share how you have been navigating the risks.

Think about what you need to be comfortable with the situation and share that. Using statements that start with “I” is more effective than starting with “you.” For instance, you could say, “I would be most comfortable if there were fewer than 10 guests, if we were masked while we weren’t eating, and if we sat at different tables for dinner.” Imagine how it would feel, instead, to here, “You can’t invite any more than 10 people, and you have to stay masked.” The former is far friendlier and far more likely to preserve the relationship.

Share why taking precautions is important to you. People are most receptive when they understand “the why.” Tell them why you have chosen to take the level of risk you have. You might say, “There’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of COVID. I want to be sure that nobody I love spends years struggling with this disease.”

Speak up and stand firm. Being friendly doesn’t mean that you have to back down. Instead, make yourself clear. If you know the hot-button issues ahead of time, practice what you will say in advance. “I just don’t feel comfortable socializing with people from out of state.”

Determine your deal breakers. It’s OK to turn down an invitation or to decide to leave, if you are witnessing behaviors that you feel put your safety at risk. Be as polite as possible, but make your exit. When next you talk to the person, share your feelings honestly. Tell the person how eager you are to get the vaccine, so we can all go back to socializing normally again.

There are lots of example phrases available from the Vermont Department of Health. Study up, then  use them to have an honest, respectful, and friendly-but-firm conversation with the people you love. If you do, you can be fairly well assured that your relationships will pull through COVID just fine.

 

Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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