How to talk about COVID-19 with friends & family

When it comes to COVID-19, we’re not always going to agree with the opinions of others. This is particularly true in the cases of masks, physical distancing, staying home, and the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, you’ve probably already had some awkward or even hostile conversations on the subject. You may be uncomfortable or even feel unsafe around certain people due to their different views/standards for safety.

Here are some tips for communicating about COVID-19.

Speak respectfully

Recognize that many people are scared, frustrated, and/or tired of COVID-19. Even if you feel this way, it’s important to speak to others with respect. You may completely disagree with a friend or family member, but you shouldn’t call them names, belittle, or dismiss them. This will only create more angry feelings and arguments.

Helpful phrases you can use in conversation

Some examples of phrases you can use when discussing COVID-19 with others include:

  • “I’m following the recommendations of my local health authority.”
  • “It’s a frustrating situation, but I’m making the decision that I feel is best for me and/or my household.”
  • “I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion.”
  • “For the health and mental well-being of myself, I’ll be [say what action you will be taking here].”
  • “Since I’m [or someone in your household] at a higher risk for catching COVID-19, I would feel the most comfortable having a virtual call.”

If you are having trouble keeping the conversation respectful, the best course of action would be to change the subject (“With respect, I don’t feel that I can talk about this right now”) or remove yourself from the situation.

Don’t judge others

We are all trying to do the best we can. Yes, there will be some people who don’t treat the pandemic as seriously as you. There may also be people who treat it more seriously than you. You are fully entitled to disagree with someone, but judging them or criticizing them isn’t going to be helpful.

If you do want to talk to someone about their views on COVID, refer back to the first tip (speak respectfully). It may also help to have some information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local health authority to which you can refer.

If you are uncomfortable with another person’s views and safety measures and they are not respectful of your views, you may have to make the decision to not see or speak to them for a while. While this is challenging, you need to keep your own physical and mental health a priority.

Don’t dismiss the distress or frustration of others

We often want to try and make people feel better. While our intentions are good, saying things like “at least you’re better off than other people” or “everything will be okay”, or even “you’ll get through it” can actually make a person feel more upset. They may experience shame for feeling bad, or feel like they can’t express themselves without being told to “look on the bright side.” You may be experiencing the same things.

Instead, say phrases like, “I know this is hard, and I’m scared too.” Empathy is important, and many times in situations like these, people just want to feel seen/understood.

If you want to learn more, here is an article on this kind of interaction (called “dismissive positivity) from Psychology Today.

Suggest alternative ways to communicate

Many of us are missing people in our lives, and we’re not getting to see them in person anymore. It’s incredibly tough. While it’s not the same, there are alternate ways to stay in touch for now. This can include video calls, texting, email, phone calls, or even traditional letters.