How do you respond to sceptics of COVID-19?

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Talking to COVID-19 sceptics can be challenging, particularly when they are family or friends. Here’s how to navigate the conversation with mutual understanding, respect and the right information.

In the midst of the pandemic, contrasting views have emerged. Some people believe that COVID-19 is a myth and some understand that it exists and are taking precautions, while others think its effects have been greatly exaggerated.

What drives COVID-19 scepticism?

It can be difficult to understand COVID-19 sceptics, particularly with the current global statistics, but much of the doubt is driven by misinformation and a lack of media literacy. Other reasons may include:

  • The inability to identify fake news or choose reputable sources of health news
  • Using social media for information and seeing all news posted online as factual
  • Taking your first source of information as factual and not challenging or fact-checking it
  • Feeling oppressed and frustrated by the government in general and seeing COVID-19 regulations as a politicisation of the pandemic
  • Anger or pain associated with the lockdown regulations (e.g. if you or someone you know has been retrenched or has lost family, etc.)
  • Identifying with a particular group and their beliefs

How to talk to your sceptical loved ones

Taking a non-confrontational communication approach along with some ‘behavioural nudges’ is key in talking to sceptics. Start with these tips:

Listen to them
Acknowledge their reasons for doubting COVID-19-related regulations or information, for example mask-wearing. Ask questions to show genuine curiosity and allow them to support their side of the argument. This way, you can bring up a time when a trusted source misinformed you too. You can also mention how information surrounding COVID-19 can change since researchers and medical experts are still studying the virus.

Show them that you care
Validating someone’s thoughts and feelings engenders trust, making them more likely to listen to you. They will also be less defensive when you are sharing information with them. Leverage your personal relationship by introducing a common reason why they should take the pandemic, precautions and treatment seriously. For instance, your grandparents’ health if you are family or your mutual friends who have chronic conditions.

Personalise the facts
Putting a face to a situation can help to humanise the effects of the pandemic. You could tell them about people you know who have been affected by COVID-19 or true stories you’ve come across. This will illustrate what the statistics really mean and will emphasise that other people are affected by our actions and words.

Use your words carefully
Imagery can affect the way we respond to things. For example, ‘herd immunity’ doesn’t sound appealing due to the use of the word herd, but ‘community’ may sound better, showing that unity in taking the vaccine is beneficial. Also, avoid labelling people. Don’t use harsh terms like ‘anti-vaxxers’ or ‘anti-maskers’ when talking to anyone with different COVID-19 views. Remember that each person’s feelings are valid, even if you don’t agree with them.

For more COVID-19-related advice, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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