COVID-19: Convincing Loved Ones to Protect Themselves and Others


Many people are having trouble accepting the COVID-19 crisis as something real that requires hard and strict responses. Their resistance falls into several levels.*

At Level One: They believe COVID-19 is No Problem.  “It will die off on its own, especially when the weather changes.
At Level Two: They may accept that COVID-19 is a problem, but they also think it is Not Serious.  “It’s just like any other flu and doesn’t require any special responses.”
At Level Three:  They accept that COVID-19 is a serious problem, but they believe there is No Solution.  “It will cause us all to be sick because too many people are ignoring the recommendations.”
At Level Four: They accept that precautions can make a difference for some people, but NOT THEM. “The recommendations are just too hard to do; I can’t give up my usual activities.
Are some of your loved ones at one or more of these levels? Have you wished you could change their thinking so they would be safer during this COVID-19 crisis? Here are things you need to know in order to try persuading them.
  1. People usually only move one step at a time.
    • If they are stuck at total denial – NO PROBLEM – they might move one step to the position of seeing COVID-19 as a problem, but one that is NOT SERIOUS.
    • From NOT SERIOUS, they may move again, but only one step more to where they see COVID-19 as serious, but still believe there is NO SOLUTION.
    • From NO SOLUTION, the next move is likely to where they think that solutions are for others, NOT THEM.
  2. People usually need some time after they change their thinking before they are open to changing even more. That is why it takes time and repeated attempts to help a person move through several levels to a CAN DO position. CAN DO is the goal – to believe there is one small step they can take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
  3. It is hard to convince people who believe there is NO PROBLEM to begin following protective measures. It is much easier to move people from NOT THEM to CAN DO.  So, if you have a loved one saying they understand that precautions can be good to do, but can’t see how they can do them, that person, with your help, may be willing to try a precaution or two.
  4. People who are at the NO PROBLEM and NOT SERIOUS level are the hardest to convince, but still worth the effort, especially in cases like COVID-19 where health and safety is at stake. You can work on NO PROBLEM folks, but take it one step at a time. Just work on the fact that there is a problem. Get them there and wait a while before you work on convincing them how serious it is.
  5. Likewise, you can work on NO SOLUTION folks, but take it one step at a time. Just work on the fact that some people are taking precautions and they are helping. Get them there and wait a while before you work on convincing them that they can try one or two precautions themselves.
  6. Getting people to move along these levels is an art and not a science. There is no sure-fire way to persuade people and no one way that will work for everyone. It can take information, warnings, requests, offers to help, etc. One thing that works well with many people at any of the levels is nurture – letting them know how important they are to you and to the world – letting them know how much you care about them and want them to be safe.
Examples of attempts to move people from level to level
Getting from NOT THEM to CAN DO:
Loved One: “I just don’t know how I can protect myself; I have to work.”
You: “I brought you some sanitizing wipes for at home and at the office. Will you at least start wiping down the surfaces you and others touch during the workday? That would be a start. Add lots of handwashing, and you will be a lot safer than you are now.”
Loved One: “OK. I’ll take these to work.”
Getting from NO SOLUTION to NOT THEM:
Loved One: “Americans are not going to stop their activities the way they did in South Korea.”
You: “Please, just think about what this means for you and your family. You
are important to me. In our state most things are shut down, so we have an opportunity to slow down the virus.”
Loved One: “I just don’t know how I can protect myself; I have to work.”
Getting from NOT SERIOUS to NO SOLUTION:
Loved One: I see that COVID-19 exists, but people are overreacting.
You: “South Korea is a country that took strong measures and they are seeing better numbers now.”
Loved One: “Americans are not going to stop their activities the way they did in South Korea.”
Getting from NO PROBLEM to NOT SERIOUS:
Loved One: “The virus is just a fear tactic.”
You: “I am hard to convince, but this article totally convinced me. Will you let me send it to you?  It explains the virus in simple, but scientific terms.”
Loved One: (after reading the article) “I see that COVID-19 exists, but people are overreacting.”
*Levels of Discounting  is a concept from copyrighted publications by Jean Illsley Clarke et al.