Conflict Resolution in the time of COVID-19
How do we act in order to stay safe and sane?
That’s the big question we all face. The internet is spinning with news, questions, and anxiety. It’s hard to sort through it all to be sure of anything.
Even if everyone living in a household believes that COVID-19 is a big deal, it’s not unusual for people within a household to have drastically different ideas about what’s okay and what’s not okay. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect conditions for a lot of conflict.
This is a basic toolbox for resolving conflict within your quarantine group.
To start, let’s describe two types of people:
Risk Minimizers (“Minnies”)
The Risk Minimizer is seeking to reduce risk of COVID-19 all the way. No amount of infection risk is okay, and they’re willing to change a lot to keep it this way.
Minnies value safety, stability, and predictability. A stable situation makes it easier to keep their risk low. They’ll often want to be fully isolated from the outside world.
Risk Balancers (“Ballys”)
The Risk Balancer know that getting or passing along COVID-19 would be terrible. They won’t do things that increase their infection risk if it’s not well worth it.
They don’t want to lose out on other important things just because they’re avoiding COVID!
There are different reasons for someone to be a Risk Balancer:
- Diehard Bally. Their experience of life in small group isolation is just not worth the lack of infection risk.
- Lacking something crucial. This type of Bally is facing infection risk to avoid other terrible things: depression, bankruptcy, job loss, and other ill health for example. If these people found a way of getting what they need in isolation, like a loved one living with them or a well-paying government stipend, they might become more of a Minnie.
- Ballys that value a specific thing very much. For example, freedom. Or more concretely, caring for others (even for people that have the virus itself!). They take on the risk to do what feels right and important.
Not everyone is a Minnie or Bally. Most people are flexible or somewhere in between. And neither is a monster! It’s important to understand that Minnies and Ballys are motivated by different things. In the end, they’re both trying to do what makes sense for them to stay safe and sane.
When a Minnie and Bally life in the same household, it can get tense fast.
One consideration is that Ballys aren’t adding risk to their lives only, they’re also adding infection risk to the other people in their quarantine group. This means that a Minnie can’t minimize risk when they live with a Bally.
A Minnie needs everyone else to act like them to feel safe. To a Minnie, a Bally looks like a dangerous defector. After all, Ballys are increasing the risk for everyone they are in contact with! And they won’t change their behavior to be safer? Unreasonable.
Ballys can be comfortable around both Minnies and other Ballys. A Bally accepts some increases in risk from others as not great but understandable. But when a Minnie starts to put limits on their behavior, they will resist it or feel stifled and controlled. To a Bally, risk is an inherent part of being alive and balancing and managing it well is the best we can do. So might view Minnies as cowardly and controlling.
Hoo, boy. How do we lower the ante?
These tools help especially when there is a conflict between Minnies and Ballys but also can help in other COVID-related conflicts.
Mediated conversation. When two groups don’t understand each other, they will jump to blame instead of empathy. Find a friend that is empathetic to both parties to help them discuss what’s important to them. The two groups can recognize their differences and also recognize that they are both trying to take care of important needs. That’s what’s underneath feelings and actions that are clashing on the surface.
Trying to change the behavior and feelings of others will breed resentment in the long term. However, if two people understand each others’ needs, they might change their behavior of their own volition, or at least become more forgiving and accepting.
Collaboration. It’s easier to sort out conflict when you can see that you are on the same side. This happens best if it’s part of an established routine. That way, when conflict arises, there will be built-in periods where you’re all working together.
But if your normal household routine isn’t possible right now, there might be new things you could do together or for each other. If you can, as a household, take time to cook dinner. Eat together. Show affection. Sit together quietly.
If those aren’t working either, then brainstorming new ideas together is a good starting place for collaboration. Perhaps you can make a household chatroom and update it with good things every day. Or co-watch a movie or workout video, even if in different rooms. Order in food and eat it on the floor through a doorway.
Keeping the group small when possible. If I’m friends with A and B and you’re friends with B and C, and we both have a strong desire to hang out with another friend so we don’t go crazy, we can add B to our quarantine group. This does still increase infection risk, but less than if we added two people to the group.
Splitting up the group. This nuclear option will reduce tension quickly. Sometimes one of the parties (often a hardcore Minnie) is just not okay with the way everyone else is managing their infection risk. Perhaps that person can rent an Airbnb, an RV, or a small private place somewhere else. This is expensive and disruptive to a household. But between that or suffering for weeks in a tense household, it might be the best option.
We’re all figuring this out
If conflict has been happening within your household, know that you are not alone. This is a new situation for all of us. It’s placing intense emotional and social pressures on groups that were working just fine up until now. And the toolkit for resolving conflict is still a work in progress.
Remember: Even though you might disagree on how to behave today, we ultimately care about each other and are on the same side.