A behavioral health expert shares her tips for communicating with those who disagree with wearing masks.
At Spectrum Health, we strongly encourage our patients, colleagues and families to wear masks, knowing that this is a key factor in preventing the spread of COVID-19. When challenged by someone who disagrees with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's face mask mandate, think about using words that encourage learning and change, not those that might create conflict.
If you find yourself in a conversation about mask use, here are some strategies to help make these conversations productive and safe.
1. Approach with curiosity.
Don't assume that someone is intentionally non-compliant. Sometimes people simply forget and are happy to be reminded. If that's not the case, ask questions such as, "Can you help me understand?" or "Will you share your concerns with me?" This will help you gather more information.
2. Be mindful of your body language.
Are your arms crossed? Are you standing over someone, or too close? If someone without a mask is too close, politely ask them to provide additional space. Relax your arms at your sides and avoid pointing at someone while talking with them.
3. Speak in a calm and low tone.
Speaking in a quiet voice can help decrease tension and anger.
4. Use "I" statements.
Try saying things like, "I'm confused why you're not wearing a mask," or "I wonder if you forgot your mask." Phrases such as "I feel uncomfortable" or "I worry about your safety" will be better received than, "You need to wear a mask" or "You are wrong," which will likely put the person on the defensive.
5. Look for ways to educate.
If the person you're speaking to says something like, "Masks are unsafe because I'm breathing in my own air," or "I'm being deprived of oxygen," dispel these myths with science-based information, ideally from people or publications they respect.
6. Promote empathy.
We are not just wearing masks for our own health, but for the health and safety of others. It may help if the person can identify someone they want to protect.
7. Know when to walk away.
If a conversation becomes heated, step away. Be mindful of your own safety, especially if the conversation is with someone you don't know well.
8. Respond to emotion.
Labeling how someone might be feeling and asking if you are correct is a way to validate their emotions. For example, "It looks like you might be feeling angry, is that right?" If you're correct, then you may ask how to help diffuse that emotion and have a conversation.
9. Look for solutions.
If someone is upset because the mandate prohibits them from entering a store or restaurant, help them identify other options. Can someone else shop for them? Can they come back later with a mask or accept a mask from an employee? Are they able to order online?
Written by Lyndsay Volpe-Bertram, PsyD.
This article was republished with permission and originally appeared at Spectrum Health HeathBeat Blog.