This holiday season, many of us are chatting with loved ones about topics that might have seemed unimaginable just a year ago. “What do you mean, you’re not coming to your cousin’s for the holiday party?” We have been going there for 20 years! “Tell me why I should wear a mask in my house!”
If you are planning difficult conversations about travel plans (or no travel) and pandemic safety precautions for all kinds of gatherings, here are some tips that can help you communicate your own needs while showing your family and to your friends that you care about them.
How to open the door to discussion – and when
Success comes from the how and what of communications.
First, decide what mode of communication is best for this topic and your loved one. Does the email leave a little space and time to process and then respond, or is it too impersonal? Does a Zoom call more for a connection and a chance to share questions and thoughts about the moment? Or does it add an unwanted layer of vulnerability to be seen and seen? What about a phone call or, if possible, an in-person conversation? Being strategic in your approach taking into account the people you plan to speak with can make a big difference.
Second, think about the timing. While many of us find that local restrictions and safety recommendations change on a weekly or even daily basis, the sooner you can make a decision on vacation plans, the better. A holiday meal or a family reunion is not an easy endeavor, even in the best of circumstances, so communicating early avoids undue stress. Waiting to retire until the last minute will likely not only disappoint the host, but can also create feelings of anger or bitterness.
Agreeing Ground Rules Regarding COVID Security
If you are planning to attend a rally, even a simple walk or in-person meeting, it is wise to negotiate acceptable safety standards for everyone in advance. If you’re trying to sort out the issue of wearing the mask and how far away you have to stay after you arrive, there’s a good chance the pans (and warm feelings) will be cold by the time you strike a deal. How long to linger, food safety Also important are the rules and comfort levels with others’ approaches to COVID bubbles and security.
People rarely see everything; they just need to feel comfortable with the ground rules on which they can respectfully agree. Know that if you are in the minority during pre-event negotiations, you decide whether or not to put yourself in a situation that may seem overly stressful or dangerous to you.
These can be difficult conversations, and it’s important to be clear in advance about the messages you want to convey. A challenge of this time is that while “I stay away” or “I stay six feet” can be understood as clear messages of love and care, they may not be received in the same spirit.
Start with love – “I really wish we could be together this vacation” or “I really wish I could give you a hug” – and share your reasoning for your decisions as simply, clearly, and confidently as you can. Taking a less personal and more objective approach can help minimize the disappointment, hurt or anger of the other person: “As a frontline worker, I am clear that I am not prepared to risk infecting the patient. ‘one of you’ versus’ I’m exhausted from my job at the hospital and lack the energy to handle the dynamics of our family when we all get together.
Recognize other perspectives and viewpoints on personal risk
In these conversations, it is also important to recognize other points of view. None of us have perfect information to guide our daily risk decisions in the COVID era. Each person has different needs, wants and tolerance for risk. It’s not about changing the beliefs of others, but being able to create a space that invites curiosity and healthy conversations that can lead to a greater sense of mutual respect and understanding when you’re done. (“I would feel safer outside than inside. Do you think there is a way to do this?” Or “Since the tests are free in town, I wonder if we could each get tested shortly before we meet. What do you think? Sometimes this can lead to creative results that work for everyone. And sometimes it’s okay to agree to disagree.
One last thought: nothing lasts forever. When we can take a long-term view – that these difficult decisions and conversations around the gathering are only for now – this awareness can help us be gentler with ourselves and with each other. There will be other holidays and gatherings, and reasons to be closer to the community again. Until that happens, gratitude for what is good in our lives, acceptance of what is not, and the ability to engage with each other with the best of intentions will carry us on.
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