3 Crucial Conversations Skills to Alleviate Anxiety Around COVID-19 Policies

How do you feel about your organisation’s COVID-19 policies?

A recent Crucial Learning survey of 1,697 employees reveals that many feel anxious about vaccines, safety protocols, and returning to the office. They also feel anxious about addressing these concerns with co-workers, managers, and direct reports.

Of our survey respondents:

58% Worry about having these awkward but important conversations.

29% Prefer to continue remote work but are nervous to discuss this with their company leaders or manager.

The Top 3 Anxieties

According to the research, respondents emphasised three main topics they’re reluctant to address:

  1. Vaccines
  2. Personal Safety
  3. Working from home/ returning to the office

 

3 Tips to Reduce the Anxiety

People feel anxiety about discussing these issues because they represent potential Crucial Conversations. The stakes are high—they involve job security and satisfaction, as well as personal and community safety. There may be opposing opinions. And as we all have seen, emotions can run strong regarding these issues.

 

So how can we reduce our anxiety around these topics and have successful Crucial Conversations?

Let’s learn more about the following three tips:

1. Prioritise Your Values

You only experience anxiety when something you value is threatened and your course of action is unclear. What’s more, the best course of action can be unclear when multiple values are threatened. You may have to make a trade-off. So, the first way to reduce anxiety is to prioritise your values. For example:

Questions like these can seem like you’re in between a rock and a hard place. Anxiety grows when you fail to take responsibility for making a tough trade-off. It feeds resentment as you blame others for not taking responsibility for your expectations.

Conversely, anxiety decreases the instant you take responsibility to decide what matters most to you.

For example, to address the questions above you must ask yourself:

“Is this job more important than work flexibility?”

“Is relationship harmony more important than personal safety?”

2. Plan for the Risks

Life is full of trade-offs, and decisions often have downsides. After you’ve prioritised your values, you can further alleviate anxiety by preparing for the risks associated with your chosen course of action.

If you’re anxious about conflict with others, it could well be that you’re ignoring conflict within yourself. For example, let’s say your company has asked all employees to return to the office, but that you don’t want to. You’ve prioritised your values and made a choice. You know there will be certain consequences.

How can you mitigate your anxiety? Plan for any risks associated with your choice.

In our example, you might find out what the consequences will be for noncompliance, look for another employer, or adjust your finances so you can navigate a gap in employment. Maybe you could find some agreeable compromise with your manager.

The point is to recognize that whatever choice you make, consequences will follow. You can mitigate your anxiety by thinking not only about those consequences, but also about how you can respond to them.

3. Prepare for the Hazardous Half-Minute

Prioritising your values and planning for risks can alleviate anxiety about the situations you face, but how can you feel more confident having difficult conversations about your decisions?

First, create psychological safety at the outset of your conversation before trying to address or resolve concerns, —the first 30 seconds often set the tone for the entire dialogue. We call this short but crucial span of time the “hazardous half-minute.”

Remember that when talking about a sensitive topic, candour isn’t the problem. People don’t become defensive because of what you’re saying, they become defensive because of why they think you’re saying it.

 

“You can reduce your anxiety by creating a rough conversation script that quickly establishes safety.”

In the first 30 seconds, make it clear:

•    You care about the person’s needs and concerns.

•    You respect them.

For example, if you’re uncomfortable because a co-worker comes to in-person meetings without a face covering and hasn’t been vaccinated, don’t start the conversation by demanding they mask up. Instead, create psychological safety:

“I know you’re opposed to wearing face coverings or getting the vaccine, and I respect your right to make those choices. My goal isn’t to try to change your mind. I also feel concerned about it and need to make my own choices. Can we talk about it?”

If during the conversation your peer becomes combative or defensive, remind yourself that their behaviour is about psychological safety, not undiscussable issues. Try to re-establish safety by validating their values and reaffirming your respect. That does not mean you pretend to agree with their opinion, but that you recognise their right to reason through their own decisions and live their life as they see fit.

Here’s Joseph Grenny, the author of Crucial Conversations and Cofounder of Crucial Learning talking about asking someone to put on a mask or stand six feet away is the right thing to do, but it’s not always easy.

Let’s Recap

As Crucial Conversations around COVID issues continue to remain relevant, we hope these tips help you overcome any anxiety you might feel about COVID variants, vaccines, or re-turning to the workplace. Remember:

  1. Know your priorities
  2. Plan for the downside risks
  3. Prepare for the hazardous half-minute

As you follow these tips, your anxiety will decrease, and you’ll be more in control of your life and circumstances. The choices may not always be easy, but you’ll be prepared and confident as you move forward!

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