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3 Conversation Skills to Alleviate Workplace COVID-19 Anxiety

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Thu Dec 16 2021

3 Conversation Skills to Alleviate Workplace COVID-19 Anxiety
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How do you feel about your organization’s COVID-19 policies?

A recent Crucial Learning survey revealed that many people feel anxious about vaccines, safety protocols, and other policies. They also feel anxious about addressing these concerns with co-workers, managers, and direct reports.

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Most respondents (58 percent) said they worry about having these awkward but important conversations, and close to a third (29 percent) said they prefer to continue remote work but are nervous to discuss this with their company leaders or manager.

How to Reduce the Anxiety

People feel anxious about discussing these issues because the issues 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? Here are three tips:

Prioritize Your Values

You experience anxiety when something you value is threatened and your course of action is unclear. So, the first way to reduce anxiety is to prioritize your values.

For example, there may be conflict between potential job security and flexibility:

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  • Will I risk my job if I demand to continue working from home?

Or between damaging a relationship and personal safety:

  • Will my boss marginalize me if I confront her about not wearing a face covering?

Anxiety grows when you fail to take responsibility for making a tough tradeoff. 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 these preliminary questions:

  • Is this job more important than work flexibility?

  • Is relationship harmony more important than personal safety?

Plan for the Risks

If you’re anxious about conflict with others, you could be ignoring conflict within yourself. For example, let’s say your company has asked all employees to return to the office but you don’t want to. You’ve prioritized 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.

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For example, you could find out what the consequences will be for noncompliance or look for another employer. 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 of those consequences as well as about them and how you can respond to them.

Prepare for the Hazardous Half-Minute

Prioritizing 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, the “hazardous half-minute.” You can reduce your anxiety by creating a rough conversation script that establishes safety. In the first 30 seconds, make it clear that you:

  • Care about the person’s needs and concerns.

  • 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. One way of doing so is to say, “I know you’re opposed to wearing face coverings or getting the vaccine, and I respect your right to make those choices. I don’t want to change you or 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 behavior 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 recognize their right to reason through their own decisions and live their life as they see fit.

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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