One of the unexpected outcomes of COVID-19’s presence in our world is the divisive nature of our feelings and actions about it. One of the unfortunate outcomes of dealing with the pandemic has been its divisive nature. It seems to have only amplified a divide in the country, with some individuals being very cautious while others are not.
Some have identified generational contributions to this divide while others have pointed to political differences. Sometimes, too, the urge to participate in important life experiences (i.e. parties, major life events, school, sports) leads to disagreements. As colleges and universities are soon resuming in various forms, students will undoubtedly start having conflict around navigating living together and not becoming isolated. Ultimately, we need to figure out how to manage conflict around our differences in opinion as covid-19 will likely be with us for a while. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a type of CBT that focuses in part on interpersonal effectiveness and communication has some lessons to impart.
1. Practice Validation. Try to see the kernel of truth in the other side and let the other person know you see where they are coming from. This does not mean you are conceding to them. It just maintains a foundation of mutual respect and goodwill. Try to use language like “I understand that you feel ___ and it makes sense based on ____.” Also avoid invalidating yourself and steer clear of the temptation to use self-critical language in an effort to maintain relationships. It is totally unnecessary to label yourself as crazy or over the top or to apologize for any boundaries you try to set.
2. Use DEARMAN. Avoid conflict later by being direct in advance about what you’re comfortable with. Keep it short and sweet. Describe the situation by sticking to the facts, Express how you feel, Assert what you want. and Reinforce what is in it for the other person. Be Mindful and stay on task and avoid getting distracted by unrelated points, Appear confident, and be open to Negotiating. Here’s an example: “We have plans to hang out tomorrow and I know that we have different levels of comfort with social distancing. I am feeling uncomfortable with the idea that we may not be on the same page and I would appreciate it if you would be able to wear your mask unless we are six feet away from each other. I am really looking forward to seeing you and know we always have a great time together. We could also figure out a different plan if that would be better.” Also be clear about consequences like avoiding seeing that person or leaving plans if you feel uncomfortable. Similarly, if you don’t want to be limited or feel coerced into something then set that boundary in advance.
3. Take a step back. Practice mindfulness so you can take a breather and avoid being reactive. You can focus on your breath or count objects in your environment to bring your own emotions down and slow down your response.
4. Avoid cognitive distortions like all of nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and mind reading. Ask for clarification in situations, be wary of extreme language like always and never, catch yourself when you are jumping to the worst case scenario, and do not assume you know what the other person is thinking
5. Practice radical acceptance. Likely the hardest thing of all is to acknowledge the facts that you disagree and that you cannot control what anyone else does. The more you fixate on why you have differing views, how to convince the other person what to do, and continuing to repeat conversations, the harder it is to move into a solution oriented place. I am not suggesting that you are agreeing with their opinion, but rather, accepting that they have a different one. The reality that you cannot control what anyone else chooses to do is a tough pill to swallow but you can avoid a lot of conflict and aggravation if you practice radical acceptance. Catch yourself having thoughts like “but why,” and “it’s not fair,” and “I can’t believe that…” The fact is, this is where you both stand and you can use that as a jumping off point to make compromises when possible. Figure out how to communicate about what you are both doing, how to limit contact with each other if necessary, and how to be mutually respectful.