Just as we were celebrating the prospect of opening up the economy and relaxing isolation, the recent spikes in COVID-19 infections around the country has turned everything on its head. Now we are retreating from resuming any semblance of normalcy, and the threat of returning to self quarantining has everyone on edge. People have responded to the spike in different ways, causing tension and even division. Despite the renewed necessity to take measures to stay apart, we can all agree that we are made to connect with each other. Even the gatherings that led to the current spike underscore that need to connect. The challenge now emerges – how can we work together to navigate through the tensions, staying safe yet responding to our natural inclination to seek each other’s company? Successful connections depend on overcoming the things that divide us.
The pandemic is a global problem, but addressing the resulting divisions begin on a personal level. The key elements are fundamental: find common ground, demonstrate understanding, cultivate patience, and build compromise. Resolving misunderstandings and disagreements won’t dispel every underlying problem but can move people to a mutually beneficial course of action. What do these elements look like during the COVID-19 pandemic?
1. Find Common Ground
Begin with an acknowledgment that things are very confusing, that it is understandable to be stressed or fearful. Find other topics on which you can agree – we miss socializing with our friends, hugging loved ones, taking in a movie or going to a ball game. We want our lives to return to normal. Listen more than talk, ask questions. Don’t share what you just heard on the news; chances are everyone else has heard the same thing. Disclose your feelings that can be shared rather than opinions about what should be done.
We have heard that we are all in this together, but this crisis has affected people in different ways. Imagine a conversation between a person who has lost a loved one to Covid and someone who has lost a job or a business. The first person may lead with the need for quarantining and the second will insist on the necessity of keeping the economy open. Both views are valid and need not cause division. Understanding other people’s experiences will go a long way to quelling the tension.
3. Cultivate Patience
It goes without saying that people need to vent their anger, fear, frustration and loneliness. Psychologists estimate that depression in the last three months has increased dramatically. Social media churns negative emotions by disseminating rumors and falsehoods. Skilled listeners know to allow people time to vent before calmly suggesting remedies and constructive courses of action. Direct the conversation with questions like “Why do you feel that way?” “What outcome are you looking for?” “Can you think of another way to address that issue?”
4. Build Compromise
Your relationships with people are more valuable than the debate about issues like to mask or not to mask, stay home or go out, cancel events or keep your scheduled commitments. Conversations conducted with common interests, understanding, and patience will lead to actions that everyone can live with, whether that is a decision to increase safety measures, proceed with responsible risk-taking or a combination of both.
Resolving the tensions between you and your teammates is never a completed item to be checked off. Communication, understanding, patience, and compromise are ongoing mindsets that are necessary if we are to continue to connect in meaningful ways in and beyond a pandemic.