With kids headed back to school, many parents find themselves at wit’s end trying to convince family, friends, co-workers, or even other parents they barely know to get their vaccinations – particularly as the Delta variant threatens the unvaccinated. With emotions running high, conversations about vaccination can be uncomfortable, confrontational, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful, so how do you talk to someone who won’t get the COVID vaccine?
The crisis is real. Only 51.6% percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for a vaccine. So the conversation is an important one to have.
However, the good news is that it is possible to make a connection with someone reluctant to get vaccinated, have a productive conversation, and actually help them find the motivation to change their mind.
Edward Brodkin, MD, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Parentology, “There are some people who are absolutely 100% dead set against getting vaccinated, and it’s going to be very difficult to convince them.”
But Dr. Brodkin says for those who are hesitant or who have mixed feelings about getting vaccinated, there are a few steps you can follow to make a connection with them and keep an open dialogue going.
How to Talk to Someone Who Won’t Get the COVID Vaccine
First, Listen—Even If You Disagree
When you learn that someone you care about is hesitant to get vaccinated for COVID-19, your initial reaction may be to talk (even lecture) rather than listen.
But Brodkin, who co-authored the best-selling book Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections with clinical researcher and therapist Ashley Pallathra, recommends a different approach: Asking the other person what their thoughts and feelings are about getting vaccinated and then genuinely listening to their response in a non-judgmental way before you start citing facts and sharing your personal experiences.
The goal in this step is to develop a rapport or connection with the person. You want to convey that you’re really listening to them and being respectful, even if you disagree with what they’re saying.
Once you’ve taken a few minutes to listen to what they have to say, the next step is to ask for their permission to share some of the things you’ve learned or some of the experiences you’ve had with vaccination. This approach, Brodkin explains, sets a different tone. It feels less like you’re twisting their arm or spontaneously lecturing them, and more like you’re asking for their consent for you to share information.
By showing an interest in what someone has to say and then asking permission to share your thoughts, the other person may be less defensive and more likely to listen to you.
The Floor Is Yours, But Keep It Brief
Now that you’ve hopefully gotten the green light to share information with someone who has mixed feelings or concerns about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, what do you say? How can you get your point across without lecturing or overwhelming the other person with information?
Keep your conversation short and simple. Offering just one or two pieces of information coupled with a personal experience may be a good place to start.
Personal experiences in particular can be powerful. If the person hears multiple stories about positive experiences with vaccination from people they have known for years and trust their judgment, that can have an effect on making them reconsider, Brodkin explains.
Elicit Their Thoughts About Vaccination
Finding out why someone is on the fence and more specifically what’s on that person’s mind will help guide your conversation. It will also help you understand what’s important to them and what their motivations for vaccination might be.
Try asking them what they think some of the advantages to getting vaccinated might be—not just about their worries and concerns. You might be surprised to hear what they have to say.
“They might say, ‘Well even though I’m not worried about myself, I worry about passing it along to this person I spend a lot of time with’, or ‘I really would like to do some more traveling and I’ve been stuck at home for a year and a half,’” says Brodkin. “I think by asking them about what they think some of the advantages could be, you can help them build their own motivation to get vaccinated.”
It’s unlikely that you’re going to completely change the other person’s mind in one brief conversation, especially if they’re very reluctant or worried about vaccination. More likely, they will hear what you have to say and take it into consideration.
“By maintaining a stance of openness, respect, and a willingness to listen, understand, and share information with their permission, you foster the growth of connection and trust, and they may well be up for revisiting it with you,” Brodkin says.
Use the Power of Attunement
Instead of getting caught up in a whirl of stress and anger about the other person’s vaccine hesitancy, try to maintain your own stance of relaxed awareness. Listen to their thoughts and feelings with an effort to understand. Take an interest in their thoughts and their motivations instead of immediately imposing your own.
Does This Approach Really Work?
These conversations can be challenging and unpredictable. However, what we do know is that these steps, better known as “motivational interviewing,” is an approach that’s been used by clinicians for decades to successfully motivate patients suffering from substance abuse to enter rehabilitation. This method has been well-researched and scientifically proven to help people who are undecided about making choices that will ultimately benefit their health.
Long before there was a COVID-19 vaccine, this method has been used to successfully encourage parents to vaccinate their children against other diseases.
How to Talk to Someone Who Won’t Get the COVID Vaccine — Sources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Edward S. Brodkin, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, co-author of Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections