With vaccines readily available to any person 12 years of age and older in the U.S., and not everyone choosing to partake – it can be a tricky topic to navigate. With new variants and the unpredictability of the virus in general, it’s understandable if you feel awkward navigating this topic with colleagues and friends. Consider these tips to avoid tricky scenarios.

  1. Democracy & Medical Conditions: Although millions of people have been vaccinated, invisible medical conditions, temporary illness, and resistance may prevent some people from participating in the vaccination process. Some will choose not to take the vaccine, and that is their prerogative. Be gracious with people who have differing views as they are entitled to their opinions in our American democracy.
  2. Asking colleagues about the vaccine; etiquette experts disagree. Some argue that it is “acceptable” since it goes to safety which overrules politeness. However, others believe that if it is going to be asked that it should be done carefully using the sandwich method (see below) and without judgment. However, if you share your vaccination experience with them, they may talk about their own if they are comfortable.
  3. Sandwich communication method: Beyond feedback, this method may be used to promote good communication and when making inquiries, not demands. Here, when communicating about a potentially difficult topic, the vaccine, you sandwich the inquiry between two positive statements. It is an imaginative approach of presenting challenging subjects so that others listen. “We are fortunate and doubly vaccinated. I understand the vaccine rates still hover around 37-40% of the US population. Let’s hope everyone who wants a vaccine is able to receive one soon.”
  4. Can a boss ask an employee? Generally, yes. However, there are limits to the extent of the questioning. The EEOC has issued guidance on this topic and it is evolving daily at the local, state, and federal level. Currently, there are some hospitals requiring all medical staff to be vaccinated by certain dates or risk job loss.
  5. Asking a colleague or friend about the vaccine? Some colleagues may consider this an invasion of privacy and an offensive, intrusive medical inquiry. Exercise caution before asking because posing this question may turn a colleague or friend into an angry person.
  6. Self-Disclosure? However, self-disclosure is a gracious way to begin a potential dialogue – if you are comfortable. Stay in your wheelhouse. If you have been vaccinated, consider this approach, “Good morning Marco, it’s great to see you back here at the office today. I am fully (doubly) vaccinated. May I shake your hand, or do you prefer a virtual handshake?” This example sidesteps asking people directly, however it provides an opportunity to self-disclose or ignore the topic diplomatically and move forward to another topic.
  7. Social media posting of vaccine cards: At the beginning of the vaccine phase, many prominent people posted their actual vaccine injection or completed vaccine card as a way to encourage others who were hesitant. However, experts advise against posting the card as identity theft may occur due to the personal information revealed such as full name, birthday, and vaccine address. BBB warns consumers not to post vaccine cards on social media.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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