The COVID-19 vaccine is the hottest conversation topic of the year — sometimes too hot to handle.
"It's so emotionally charged,” says Anne Fishel, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is director of the family and couples therapy program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It's about how we're going to go forward as a couple or a family, how we're going to take care of ourselves and others. It's about life and death.”
A January poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47 percent of Americans would take the vaccine as soon as possible, up from 34 percent in December. But about 30 percent say they will wait to see how the rollout goes, and another 20 percent say they will get it only if required or not at all.
Cheryl Umbles sees the reluctance firsthand. An interior designer in Newark, Delaware, she is on a mission to convince family, friends and even clients to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It's not always an easy sell. But she soldiers on, based on her conversations with the medical community and her own background in pharmaceutical marketing.
"I'm not giving up,” says Umbles, 61. “But a lot of people I've spoken to have been skeptical about the vaccine. I think it comes from a lack of knowing and understanding."
COVID-19 vaccine conversations are often frustrating or, at the worst, hurtful. But Fishel and other communication experts say it is possible to discuss the topic without things devolving into an unproductive standoff or a shouting match.
If you're trying to talk to someone about the vaccine, here's a 10-point plan based on what experts recommend.
1. Get prepared
Consider why you want to have this conversation, says Michele Gravelle, one of the principals at Triad Consulting Group in Somerville, Massachusetts, which teaches communication and negotiation skills. The company was founded by the authors of Difficult Conversations, a 2010 book that grew out of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Gravelle warns that trying to change people's behavior may only put them on the defensive, so be clear on your goals for the discussion. And make sure the conversation isn't about being the one who's “right.” Ask yourself: “What is it that I want to have happen? What is it that I hope to achieve by having this conversation? Is it to put [someone] in her place, to correct her, make her wrong, prove how right I am?” Instead of trying to be the victor in an argument, make understanding your goal, Gravelle and others say.