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Use Your Managing-up Skills to Talk to Your Parents about COVID-19

Alexis Perrotta

baby boomers

There is a new normal, and we’re all figuring it out together. We have collectively found ourselves in a situation that is, in a word, surreal. In what feels like the blink of an eye, we’re implementing measures for social distancing, experiencing “shelter in place” or “lockdown” scenarios, working from home, worrying about our finances and our jobs, and getting to know our partners and roommates a whole lot better. 

But for many adult children, the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has given rise to an additional challenge: how to convince our baby-boomer parents to take the pandemic seriously, and to protect themselves (and the community at large).

Put your managing-up skills to good use

At some point in your professional development journey, you may have searched our site for tips on managing your manager, or “managing up.” Today we’re going to take all of those managing-up strategies and explain how to use them to discuss the gravity of the novel coronavirus pandemic with your baby-boomer parents. 

We hope this information will be particularly useful for those of you who don’t feel confident that your parents or older relatives are taking the pandemic as seriously as they should be.

When talking to your parents about coronavirus, DO:

Know your audience

To communicate in a way that works for them, and to better understand what they may need from you, consider questions like these before you sit down to talk:

  • What might be driving their lack of concern?
  • Where are they getting their news?
  • How can you work together to mitigate any major changes to their routine?
  • How can you work together to mitigate any major changes to their sense of independence?
  • How have past emergencies, crises, or hardships influenced how they are reacting to the current situation?
  • If they do have fears or concerns, what are they?

Considering how the answers to these questions may impact your parents’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic will help you to understand their objectives, anticipate their needs, and keep them from being blindsided (all important strategies when managing up).

In the words of your parents, “Mind your tone.”

Make sure your jumping-off point is from a place of calm, yet warranted and well-informed concern. You don’t want to come off as pressuring, belittling, or infantilizing (this could elicit the exact opposite response of what you’re hoping for). 

Remember the bigger picture

Don’t let your talk devolve into an argument! Your mission is to have a candid conversation with your parents about the current pandemic so that they are moved to take the proper precautions. You’ll likely need to employ some negotiation, relationship management, management across generations, and managing-up skills to meet your objective.

When talking to your parents about coronavirus, DON’T :

Attempt to cover anything up

Being a disingenuous “yes man” or presenting things as unrealistically good are bad habits. If you want your parents to see you as supportive, positive, and proactive, be those things.

Try to manipulate

Nobody is perfect; now, more than ever, we need to be reminded of that from time to time. We all have our own reactions (rational or otherwise) in an emergency. It’s what makes us human and it’s what makes you who you are. So if you do make a misstep in handling the conversation, don’t blame others or try to make excuses; just own up to the situation immediately. Even if your parents are upset in the moment, your expediency will allow the problem to be solved more quickly. You can’t build mutual trust without being trustworthy yourself.

Get caught up in family politics

Dealing with family means lots of relationship management. Strive to treat everyone fairly, including your parents (or your opinionated siblings, aunts, uncles, in-laws … you get the idea), and check your personal baggage at the door.

Additional resources

If you’re looking for more resources on how to talk with your parents about the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a brief but very insightful resource from CNBC health and wellness writer, Cory Stieg. And if you just need to hear that you’re not the only one going through it, take a look at this article in The New Yorker.

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Alexis Perrotta

As the Associate Director of Editorial and Career Content at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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