Two students in masks walking on campus.

It can be challenging to have conversations with people who don’t share our own views or who see the world differently from us. However, it’s important to facilitate open conversations about the things we disagree on where both parties feel respected and understood. If you are having a conversation with someone about COVID-19, here are some tips to keep in mind. 

1: Approach the conversation with an open mind

Approach difficult conversations with empathy and understanding. It’s normal for people to have conflicting feelings about the pandemic and the changes they’ve had to make. Be empathetic and know that ambivalence is normal. It’s also important to keep in mind that your peers likely have different reasons motivating their actions and choices. Try to understand what is important to them, what they need and how that impacts their behaviors. Avoid making assumptions about why people are resistant to following the rules. Instead, take their perspective and life experiences into account. 

All of the information and expectations around COVID-19 can be overwhelming. Having meaningful conversations can provide you an opportunity to help your peers navigate changes and see how their choices can impact others. If you've tried to have a conversation and you're still concerned that the other person is not following campus health and safety guidelines, you can reach out to Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution for support and guidance.

2: Listen for understanding

One of the most important things we can do when having tough conversations is to really listen to and understand what someone is saying. Below are some things you can do to be an active listener and things to avoid that can interfere with communication. 

Things that get in the way of listening:

  • Distractions
  • Prejudging the person
  • Rushing to solve a problem
  • Dismissing or invalidating feelings

Things that can help us listen better:

  • Be aware of your own feelings, and avoid projecting them onto the other person.
  • Talk in the right environment, one that is neutral, free of distractions and allows us to remain present.
  • Focus on listening to the person rather than what you will say next or how you want to respond.
  • Meet them where they are at. We can’t change people.

    3: Use effective communication skills

    Listening is often the first step in having a successful conversation. However, it’s also important to practice good communication skills that can help direct the conversation in a healthy way. Here are some things to keep in mind when having difficult conversations with someone.

    Not sure what to say?

    Here are some things you can say if your friend, roommate or peer:

    • Refuses to wear a face covering because they aren’t worried about getting sick: “I know wearing a face covering may not be comfortable, but it’s a good way to protect us all.”
    • Wants to have a party or have more people over than you're comfortable with: “Having lots of people in close contact can increase the spread of the virus, and the more it spreads the less likely we are to stay on campus this semester. Can we just have a few friends over instead?”
    • Is angry about the public health guidelines and feels like they aren’t able to meet new friends or have the “college experience”: “I’m sure this is different from what you were expecting. Would you be interested in looking at some different ways to get involved and meet new people?” 

    If you and your friends disagree on how strictly you’re following health and safety guidelines, it’s better to defer to the person with a stronger boundary. So if one of you is more strict about guidelines, try to take that person’s lead when making decisions about what to do. 

    • Be mindful. Sometimes when we’re passionate about a topic, it can bring up a lot of feelings that may lead us to escalate the situation. Learning how to notice and manage our emotions can help keep things from escalating. Be mindful of your tone and demeanor, and be aware of how you’re showing up in the conversation. Check in and ask yourself “does this still feel like a conversation or does it feel like an argument?”
    • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions can help draw out ideas or thoughts from a friend or peer. For instance, you can ask “How are you feeling about the new campus policies?” Use them as a way to gain deeper understanding, but use them sparingly. If you ask too many open-ended questions, it may make the conversation feel more like an interrogation.
    • Use affirmations. Whether you agree with someone’s position or not, it’s important to use affirmations to highlight the strengths and values that someone is bringing to the conversation. For example, “I totally get wanting to have a normal social life despite everything that's going on”. Validate how they’re feeling, rather than how they’re behaving. You can be understanding that someone is upset, angry or worried, without saying it’s okay to yell.
    • Use reflections to clarify. Reflections are a great communication tool, but they can take some practice. Reflections give us a chance to state back what we think someone is hearing or saying without framing it as a question. This either confirms to someone that we are hearing what they are saying or gives them the opportunity to correct any misinterpretations. A friend may say to you, “I understand why it’s important not to have large parties, but it’s so boring to just sit at home on the weekends.” You can reflect back, “It sounds like you want to help do your part in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but you are needing another way to connect with friends and have fun.” Oftentimes people may experience stress when they feel that they don’t have a sense of control. Providing options for next steps can be a way to give them some agency in a situation. In this case, you can offer alternatives like, “What if we invite a few friends over for games or go to the park together?”
    • Summarize the conversation. Wrap up the conversation or a portion of the conversation by summarizing to highlight the positive aspects of what you discussed. Keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight, and this may be a topic that requires ongoing effort on the part of both people. At the end of the conversation, thank the person for their time and let them know that you appreciate their willingness to speak with you. If you feel like you need to revisit the subject, let them know that you would like to follow up at a later time.

    Campus resources

    The Effective Conversations about COVID-19 Course covers campus expectations for health and social behaviors, helps students build effective communication skills and includes ways to stay connected. It takes roughly 30 minutes to complete through Canvas.

    Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution offers guidance, coaching and support to help students navigate conflict and difficult conversations. They also provide oversight and enforcement for the Student Code of Conduct.

    Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is offering a free virtual COVID-19 workshop series. This series is composed of 4 independent workshops designed to help you cope COVID-19 related changes in your life. This is a great option if you’re short on time, want quick coping skills or are feeling distressed. CAPS is also available for crisis support, brief individual counseling, psychiatry, consultations and other mental health services. If you’re concerned about the well-being of a friend, roommate, classmate or colleague, please call 303-492-2277. 

    Learn more about campus expectations and health and safety guidelines by visiting the Protect Our Herd website

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