As we shared in an article recently, if just 50 percent of people engaged in handwashing, social distancing, and mask wearing, we would stop the spread of the pandemic. But how do we effectively convince people to do so? Hint: shaming is not the answer.
Although it can be tempting to call non-mask wearers “covidiots” out of anger when you see them out and about, Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus explains that shaming people into healthy behavior doesn’t work and can actually make things worse. So rather than hurling insults, vilifying non-maskers, or depending on hashtags, here’s how to effectively convince people to mask up.
- Use credible messengers. Turning to credible public health officials, respected community members, and even celebrities are all great ways to convince people to wear a mask. Follow in the steps of California governor Gavin Newsom who has been sharing videos of Bill Nye explaining the health values of masks and images of celebrities wearing their most fashionable face coverings.
- Be culturally aware. Creating diverse messaging that incorporates all members of a community is critical for reaching everyone and appealing to diverse audiences in the fight against COVID. Share messaging from diverse sources regarding the importance of mask wearing. For more stubborn audiences, this might even include masks that reflect their values or passions such as sports-themed designs.
- Lean into the desire to protect our own. People who disregard precautions likely have not been personally affected by the pandemic. Remind people that wearing a mask is not an infringement on liberty, but a sign of respect for vulnerable members of our community like our grandparents.
- Present clear information. Pathos appeals are effective for pulling at heartstrings, but there is value in cold hard logos as well. Graphs like this one from the University of Kansas present the key facts about mask wearing in an easy-to-understand way. Like the fact that two people wearing masks who are six feet apart reduce the risk of virus transmission to virtually none.
- Follow up with empathy. If someone is denying the facts of the pandemic, most likely they are using denial to cope with fear. Acknowledge their concerns and meet them with compromise such as: ‘I understand it’s uncomfortable to breathe with the mask on, but you only have to wear it for 20 minutes in the store and then you can take it off as soon as you get to your car.’ Or, ‘I understand you feel it infringes on your rights, but isn’t it just serving to protect those around you in the same way that traffic laws do?’
At the end of the day, mask wearing reduces the spread of the virus and keeps everyone safe so we can reopen our world more quickly. The faster we all wear masks, the faster we can all take them off. If you know a friend or family member who refuses to wear a mask, try one of these methods to convince them with reason and empathy, rather than anger and insults.