The last laugh: Tricky conversations

This month Stephanie Davies considers some tricky conversations around coronavirus.

There are certain subjects that you just know will create conflict. Generally, you avoid these in casual work conversations. Divisive topics like politics, Brexit, Gemma Collins and religion are best left out of the office, unless you are an MP, Arg or a Rabbi. 

One topic that you can’t help but address anywhere is coronavirus. It has consumed our lives so entirely it haunts our dreams.

It would be strange to find an office where coronavirus doesn’t top the list of discussion topics, even during Great British Bake Off (I think maybe the Freddie Mercury cake debacle may have knocked it off the convo top spot momentarily, but once the icing sugar settled it was back up there again).

Generally people can debate issues about the pandemic, have opinions about restrictions and policy, and still get on with each other. Increasingly however, there is a coronavirus convo subset that is creating schisms in work and friendships.

Whether at work or with friends and family, I guarantee it has happened to you. As usual you’ll be discussing the latest updates and trying to impress your colleagues with your grasp of epidemiology and R numbers, when someone says: “Yeah, but what do you think is really behind it all…?”

Raising one of these conspiracies in a normal work conversation is the equivalent of lobbing a grenade in the middle of the room with the pin pulled out

They usually lean in and whisper it. They might follow it up with other statements. Maybe they blithely mention their determination not to have a vaccine ‘because it contains government mind control drugs’. Or they might proudly boast about not downloading the test and trace app because the government will use it to track them (er, that’s the point of it).

You see, one of other victims of the virus has been reason. Like a mass hallucination, people are beginning to believe all sorts of baloney. Increasing numbers of people are regurgitating garbage conspiracies they hear on social media or from other crackpots. And then they bring these into the workplace and try to spread them around, much like a real virus.

Raising one of these conspiracies in a normal work conversation is the equivalent of lobbing a grenade in the middle of the room with the pin pulled out. Whenever I hear someone mention their belief that it’s all a hoax engineered by big pharma to get us to buy more Lemsip, I’m frankly disappointed, particularly when it is someone I formerly assumed was sane.

It’s always sad to realise a friend or colleague has become a fully paid-up member of the tin foil hat brigade. But this is where we are. We live in strange times.

So how do you tackle these tricky conversations? You can’t just say: ‘Read the science…duh!’ even if that’s what you are thinking. People have opinions and they are allowed to express them, even if they are clearly wacko.

Correcting someone can sound patronising, and often people who hold extreme views will take negative reactions to those views as confirmation of them. The best policy is to agree to disagree, find some neutral ground that you can all agree on, like kittens or puppies, and move the conversation on to something less controversial, like Brexit.


About the author

Stephanie Davies is the founder of Laughology.


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