Conversations around health can by difficult – in particular, we’ve had many reports of human resource professions struggling with vaccine communication in recent days.
These hot-button subjects are a communication mine-field. People naturally can be guarded or become defensive with their personal issues, and it can be uncomfortable for both parties and often leads people feeling misunderstood. This is definitely true regarding the new Covid vaccine. While some of us face these difficult conversations, those in health care and government agencies are faced with these conversations daily as they navigate the Covid-19 Vaccination regulations, ensuring their staff stay healthy as well as those they serve. So how do we communicate effectively while creating a safe environment?
Below we cover 5 tips to help you navigate these difficult vaccine communication moments and other tough conversations.
- Be mindful of your natural bias
- Don’t judge or convince
- Listen more than you talk
- Focus on strategic Reflective statements
- Summarize their values
Be mindful of your Natural Bias
We all have a natural bias; whether it’s thinking about our own thoughts on vaccine facts, smoking, weight loss or more. We all have opinions, it’s human nature, but one thing that shuts down communication is if someone’s bias is different than ours. Therefore, if we can keep our bias at bay and keep the conversation focused on the other person and not our own thoughts and opinions, we will then be more apt to OPEN up the lines of communication.
So take a deep breath before you go into a conversation about vaccination status and remember that you have a bias and you are going to have to leave that at the door.
Don’t judge or convince
Once we recognize our natural bias, we need to remember to not judge someone if their opinion or thoughts are different from ours. Everyone has a right to think about things their own way. Remembering to step aside and not judge others for their thoughts or beliefs is critical to keeping the lines of communication OPEN. As soon as we share our opinion of THEIR thoughts, the lines of communication become more stressed and strained and can shut down. It is helpful to reflect on our role and assess if we are in the position to tell them how to think and what to choose? We don’t “know” what’s best for them and their life. It’s ultimately up to them to decide, it’s a very personal decision.
Although your opinion may matter to them, they are the captains of their ship and they will do what’s best for them; it rarely bodes well if you feel you need to convince them.
Listen more than you talk
Once we’ve avoided a few bumps in the road like being mindful of your bias and not judging others, we’ve got the lines of communication open and now it’s time to just LISTEN. The more we listen to other people the more they can hear their OWN thoughts about their dilemma when it comes to being vaccinated. Most people, when given a safe, open space, feel two ways about things. They want to stay healthy but worry, “could this disease actually kill?” while also worry, “what if the government is putting trackers in us through this vaccine”.
We’ve all been there! So it’s important to keep listening.
Remember to WAIT (check out this communication tip!)
Focus on Strategic Reflective Statements
You’ve heard of reflective listening right? Well, strategic reflective statements aren’t exactly “reflective listening”. Reflective listening is hearing what is being said and letting the speaker know it is understood; however, strategic reflective statements more deeply focus on empathy and what is going on in their world view or their experience. So this might sound like this:
“I’m really struggling with vaccine confidence. I know my friends got vaccinated, and the Centers for Disease Control say to get vaccinated, but then on social media posts people talk about it harming fertility and that it will track us. I want to be healthy, but I’m just not sure if that vaccine is for me.”
Example response: “There are so many voices and you just don’t know who or what to believe. But deep down you know you should do something and finding out what that is, is the key.”
Do you see how we aren’t repeating what they are saying, but instead we are trying to put ourselves IN their shoes and seeing the world from their eyes.
So remember in your vaccine communication and for other tough conversations – slow down and when you chose to speak, use strategic reflective statements so the client can hear themselves talk more than you talk.
Summarize their Values
People feel more clear and confident when their behaviors are aligned with their values. People blame others more often when their behaviors are NOT aligned with their values. Values are deeply ingrained in helping us make decisions that we feel good about so as you hear someone talk about their life, their health, their vaccine status or their safety-think about what they value. Present that back to them and let it sit. They will either feel good about it and you’ll get some head nodding or they will correct and re-explain. Either way, THEY will become more and more clear about what THEY want.
Here’s an example:
“I really want to stay healthy, but worry if this Covid-19 disease is really killing people. I hate shots and I hate the government’s mandate on this, which makes me not want to get the vaccine but I don’t want to get sick or die? I’ve got kids, a family…I want to be around for them.”
Example response: “Wow you’ve really thought about this, and it’s weighing on you. You want a long and healthy life and wonder if this vaccine could help with that. But you also worry about how this decision impacts your kids. Thinking about the healthy life you want and the legacy you want to leave on your kids, what options do you see?”
The more we help them to think about their values, the more they can decide WHAT behaviors align most with their own values.
Communication Challenge: Next time you get into a conversation with a loved one, a friend or a co-worker about their vaccine status, take a moment to remember these tips. Remember it’s not about YOUR opinion, but it’s about how well you can help them navigate their own thoughts.