How to Communicate in the COVID-19 Health Crisis (by Lori Weck)

Fear, panic, and fortunetelling dread are common when we feel unsafe, physically and emotionally, and the frequent news alerts likely have you feeling unsafe.

How do you change unconscious reactive responses when you or your family perceive themselves to be in danger?

Try using a skill all pilots use to ensure safe verified communications.

Here’s an example:
FAA ATC: United 3371, you are cleared to 28,000 feet.
United 3371 copy clearance to 28,000 feet.

Simple and concise, right? So why do they “repeat” the message?

The brain doesn’t know the difference between what goes in and what goes out; it’s all “self-talk”.

In my example, when ATC ground control radios the pilot, they know what they stated. The pilot believes he knows what he heard. If they don’t repeat, each may assume the wrong facts. FAA accident investigators have found non-verified communications lead to fatal errors.

Unconscious and reactive communications

We know what was said, so why check?

Here’s a personal relationship example: When you say to your partner or family member: “I don’t want you to go to Walmart.” You believe that your “send” is a clear and simple message. How could they not understand you?

Because their “self-talk” hears a crazy reason why you don’t want them to go to Walmart. They have no idea you’re talking about the flu virus or your concern for family safety. They perceive you as controlling and acting ridiculous! Yikes! You don’t want that. None of this entangled communication relates family safety in a clear and heard manner.

Next time try asking for reflective listening. A short-hand version goes like this:
“Please mirror me; I’m concerned about your safety if you go to Walmart.”
They respond: “I’m hearing you’re concerned about my safety going to Walmart. Did I get it?” “Yes.”
“OK can you tell me more?”
“Yes, I’m worried about the new virus everyone is talking about.”
“You’re worried about the new flu virus. Did I get it?”
“You got it.
“May I send to you?”
“I’m glad you asked for a mirror, because I was getting mad when you told me not to go to Walmart! Now I understand you better. And I appreciate your concern for me and the safety of our family. I will wash my hands before leaving the store and use alcohol hand sanitizer in the car. Will this help you feel safe regarding my trip to the store?”
“Yes, you got it! Thank you for the mirror, and I understand that you will be careful at the store.”

Mirroring Communications
That may sound complicated and unnecessary. Yet why do we seem to get angry or hurt?
When you get used to mirroring, it feels more comfortable. Of course, you don’t have to use mirroring all the time in conversations with family members.

Use it when you realize that what you’re saying is about your fear. Thus, when your message triggers a reaction that’s unexpected, one that seems out of place or hurtful, please remember this skill!

Practice does makes perfect. So, try practicing this soon, with any topic that is safe.
“Practice time, please mirror me. Look at our cat he cracks me up!”
“You’re saying Henry is playing in a sack again! Did I get it?”
“Yup, that’s close enough, thank you.”

Getting control of triggers around COVID-19 is as simple as washing your hands, and mirrored communications.

Wishing you good health and intentional safe conversations!

Lori Weckbaugh MS is the owner of live online counseling relationship solutions