This week, following on the heels of a fantastic Air Health Our Health podcast conversation on the topic, we’re digging into how to talk to your friends and family about vaccination. You can find the first post (on the value of relationship for influencing behavior) here and the podcast episodes here and here.
After you’ve spent some time reflecting on and investing in your relationship with the person you plan to talk with, it’s time to identify some common ground and prepare to show them that you share their concerns.
In the podcast session, we talked about cognitive containers (values, beliefs, identity, routine, etc.) and how people use them to help us make decisions efficiently.
Values, the “philosophies or principles that undergird people’s beliefs and dispositions,” differ from beliefs – the information that people hold as factually true. Here’s a list of typical values that people might hold:
All of us care about most of these values to some degree, but if you were forced to rank them, you’d find that the values that you hold most dear differ from those that are impactful for others. Values are imparted and reaffirmed by our families, our cultures, and our political identity, so these aren’t characteristics that are easily changed, and when they do change, it tends to be gradually, over time. Certainly not during one conversation, or around one decision, even an important one like vaccination. That’s why, if we want to influence behavior, we need to understand how to work with these cognitive elements, not against them.
Research suggests that vaccine hesitancy is associated with several distinct values, especially purity, liberty, and anti-authority. By understanding how these values work, we can identify vital common ground from which to connect on difficult topics – even ones where we might think we fundamentally disagree. Below are some examples of how someone might signal these values in their language and behavior, and how you yourself might connect with them, even if they aren’t the most important values for you personally.
A person who values purity is often very concerned with choices that feel like they may involve irreversible change or loss of innocence.
A person who values liberty feels strongly that people should be able to speak their minds and not be forced to do things against their will.
Someone who has a low value of authority is skeptical and suspicious of formal structures like government, religion, higher education, and science.
Once you’ve considered where you might have some common ground with your person, you’re much more likely to speak from a place of empathy when you address the specific barriers facing your people. This relational connection is much more powerful than the facts alone. In the next post, we’ll talk about how to pull all of this together when you talk with your folks about the barriers they’re facing to vaccination.