We all use denial on occasion, sometimes to our benefit. Without it, we become too focused on the everyday risks of living in our world, and the anxieties these can generate. However, when it comes to a pandemic, denial is a dangerous thing.
A study out of the University of Texas shows that, when we feel threatened and fail to effectively manage our fear, we are more likely to seek out the wrong kind of information — that which is based on personal anecdotes and opinions rather than science. Those who deny the severity of COVID place themselves and those they associate with at risk, compounding the danger.
How can we reason with a COVID denier? That’s no small challenge, but here are some approaches in the order they should be used:
- Listen: Let that person state his or her viewpoint without interrupting and without interjecting your own opinion. This shows respect.
- Ask questions: Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you feel that way?” and “How did you come to your conclusion about COVID?” and “What sources of information led you to your point of view?” This shows interest.
- Restate what you heard: Restate a summary of the person’s argument and then ask, “Did I get that right?” This shows understanding.
- State what you learned: If the person touched on something you hadn’t considered before, even if you disagree with it, say so (e.g., “You know that point you made about X? Well, I never thought of it that way”). This shows openness.
- State your point of view: Respectfully point out where your respective viewpoints differ. Be sure to include the sources of information that bolster your opinion. This shows confidence.
- Don’t debate: The idea is not to win an argument but, rather, to sow seeds of doubt or curiosity. If you follow the steps above, that becomes possible, but if your discussion devolves into a debate, it usually fails in this regard.
- Close respectfully: Thank the person for the discussion and close respectfully (e.g., “Although we don’t agree, I appreciate us having an open, candid discussion”).
This approach has proven effective in encouraging those in denial to reconsider their positions. Granted, no approach works with everyone, but this increases your odds of success.