Tips on How to Handle Values Collisions in the Age of COVID-19

values collision listening skills covidIt’s official. I’ve been kicked off the guest list for an upcoming family wedding! Turns out, it’s payback for a difficult decision I had made not to attend a relative’s indoor funeral service in May. I wanted to avoid being exposed to the Coronavirus and in the process, I had created hurt feelings.

They perceived I did not care enough about him to honor his memory with my attendance. On the other hand, I have suffered from severe anxiety for most of my life (more acutely during the pandemic) and have not left my house for the last four months for any reason except a neighborhood walk.

When personal values collide, people can experience overall unease, passionate arguments and even damaged relationships. According to the Gordon Model, a Values Collision occurs when one person doesn’t like the behavior of another person, but that behavior does not impact him or her in a tangible way.

Did my decision not to attend the funeral impact my family in a tangible way? Did it cost them time, money or energy? Is there a concrete impact?

Let me be clear: I am not discounting their hurt feelings. Those are important and I would never want to be the cause of someone else’s pain, especially family members whom I love. What it comes to is the difference in these two beliefs: 1. Public, indoor gatherings with close personal contact can cause a person to contract COVID-19 and; 2. Important family events should supersede virus fears.

The pandemic has created many potential Values Collisions—here are some examples from different perspectives:

  1. Should you wear a mask? (Your friend wears a mask whenever she goes into a public building—you do not.)
  2. Is it safe to shake hands, hug or kiss others? (Your cousin wants to give you a hug—you think hugging is too risky.)
  3. Is it safe to dine in a restaurant? (You want to go out to eat—your partner doesn’t think it’s safe.)
  4. Should you attend gatherings, parties or events? (Your spouse wants to go to a barbeque—you think there are too many people coming to practice social distancing.)

People can and have made arguments on either side. Some say these are Conflicts of Needs (includes a tangible effect = potential to infect others) and others say these are Values Collisions (no tangible effect = my personal rights). Without a doubt, there are a lot of complicated and intense emotions attached to these beliefs.

If we are going to survive this difficult time in our history, it will take an abundance of listening (without judgement) and understanding. The Gordon Model offers two tools you can use to facilitate productive discussions about your beliefs and needs.

Consider using the Declarative I-Message tool: telling someone what you believe and think before a problem exists.

  • “I believe the press is exaggerating the danger of the virus to create panic.”
  • “I am scared to contract the virus because I have a medical condition.”
  • “I think cases of the virus have decreased in our geographic area, so it’s safe to resume normal activities.”

In addition, you can use the Preventive I-Message tool: telling someone what you need and why, before a problem exists.

  • “I would love to have you come over for a visit, but because I’m still nervous about the virus, I’d prefer we maintain a social distance and that we sit outside.”
  • “I look forward to attending the barbeque and not wearing a mask since it’s only family. If you invite anyone outside the family, I’d like you to give me a heads up.”
  • “I’m going to participate in the golf league again, but I’m still being cautious about COVID, so I’m not going to go to the bar after we golf.”

Couple these statements with Active Listening, and you will create a safe environment for a candid and respectful discussion.

The Values Collision I experienced with my family has reminded me about the importance of openly discussing needs, especially now. Perhaps a well-timed Preventive I-Message could have saved us a lot of hurt feelings. I’m glad I know just the right Gordon Model tools to go back and repair the relationships!

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