I read an article last week noting that COVID vaccination is up in some of the states with the lowest rates, now that the Delta variant is proving to be so virulent, and is affecting younger adults who thought they were “safe.” That heartened me — as did the news that the Pfizer vaccine has been given full approval by the FDA.
And still, millions of people — perhaps tens of millions — will hesitate to get vaccinated.
For the many millions more who have been vaccinated — and who have reviewed the facts and are convinced this is the best way to control the virus’ spread and save lives — that ongoing hesitation is frustrating and difficult to understand. Too often lately, I’ve seen that frustration harden into contempt and enmity. “How could they?” and “Don’t they care about their kids?” and “Are they nuts?”
If you just want to vent…well, go for it, I guess. But if you want to have a chance of changing someone’s point of view, of making it more likely that they will decide to get vaccinated — I have a few suggestions for what might work better.
Be important to them: First, don’t try to change someone’s mind about this topic if you don’t already have a relationship with them. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know, like, and trust you, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll open up to you about a subject that’s become so polarizing and burdened with emotional landmines. Assume my suggestions apply to conversations with family, friends, and colleagues — and even within those realms, the subset of people with whom you’ve had good and open conversations about topics other than this. You need a base to start from when dealing with this topic.
Get Curious: I believe there are almost as many reasons for hesitating to get vaccinated as there are people who haven’t gotten vaccinated. Don’t assume you know what’s driving their concern. Go into the conversation with real curiosity; wanting to find out what the person thinks and feels and why. Start with a curious question that lets the person know you’re actually interested to hear what they have to say: “I’d love to understand your hesitation — could you explain how you’ve ben thinking about this?” or “So you’re not sure you want to get vaccinated — can you walk me through your concerns?” And then, when they respond, make sure to…
Listen Deeply. If you don’t listen at this point, you can blow the whole thing. When they start telling you what they’re worried about, or what they believe, if you immediately switch into “convince” mode or — even worse — “that’s ridiculous” mode…you’ll lose them. Remind yourself that you’re really trying to understand first. Even if they say something that you know isn’t true (e.g. “thousands of people have died from vaccine side effects”), just breath deeply and summarize the fear behind the misinformation: “You’re worried the vaccines are more dangerous than we know.” Listen until they seem done. If you can’t tell whether they’re finished, ask something like, “Does that about sum it up?” They may want to talk a lot — it’s wonderful to be heard, and they may never have had the chance to fully say what they think to someone on the other side of this question — keep listening.
Say what they can hear: What you’ve fully listened to them, ask if you can share an alternative point of view. IF THEY SAY NO, STOP. (This includes any version of no, as in, “I’ve heard it all” or “You can’t tell me anything I don’t know” or “So you think you know more than me?” etc.). That’s right: stop. Thank them for sharing and walk away or change the topic. If they tell you they’re not open, believe them.
However, if they say yes, address their concerns as specifically as possible, and be sure to share your point of view in the way that’s most likely to resonate for them. For instance, if you know they’re more information-based, share facts (along with your sources, if that’s likely to be compelling to them). If, however, you know that they’re more swayed by stories and emotion, focus on that: what it was like for you to get vaccinated, perhaps, or how you felt knowing you were protecting your children. Finally, be fairly brief: it’s hard for most people to listen for very long to something that feels new or strange. One sentence that lands and gets them thinking is more powerful than a well-reasoned lecture that makes them uncomfortable.
Offer to help: Finally, if they seem receptive to what you’ve said, offer practical assistance. Can you drive them to the vaccination site, or find out for them where the nearest one is? If you’re their boss, perhaps you can give them paid time off to get vaccinated (or if you’re their colleague, offer to cover for them while they go). If they’re a stay-at-hone parent, can you watch their kids while they get vaccinated? Offering to help communicates the most important thing: your care for them as a person.
At the end of the day, I assume that’s why you’re even reading this post: you want to help them, the people in their lives, and all the rest of us, too.
Thanks for making the effort — and good luck.