ChangeFamily/CommunicationReflectionAugust 23, 20210How to Change a Mind

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.


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