How to talk to someone who doesn’t wear a mask, can you change their mind?

Studies have found that wearing a mask is the single most effective public health measure at tackling Covid.

In a first of its kind research conducted by public health experts from Australia, the UK and China, it was found that mask-wearing can significantly reduce the rate of Covid transmission.

While vaccines are safe and effective and saving lives around the world, experts say most do not provide 100% protection. As countries battle to increase their vaccination rates, it is not yet known if jabs will prevent future transmission of emerging coronavirus variants.


However, now, a systematic review and meta-analysis of non-pharmaceutical interventions, found for the first time that mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are all effective measures at curbing cases – with mask wearing being the most effective.

All these health measures combined are stated to be the best bet towards combating Covid. And yet, as vaccination rates increase in countries around the world, people have stopped wearing masks

So how do you convince someone to continue to wear a mask? And what’s the best way to talk to them if you actually want to make a difference?

Yelling at someone to mask up, and shaming them for not wearing masks doesn’t work to anyone’s advantage. Instead, people respond better to being listened to and treated with respect—regardless of political affiliation or social status.

Using psychology and subtle negotiation tactics

 As soon as you venture into a tone that sounds critical, people tend to get into a defensive posture. Instead, negotiation experts advise to say something like, ‘Excuse me, could I chat with you for a second? I see that you don’t have a mask on, and I know that’s a personal choice and a choice that you need to make, but I have this vulnerability medically. Or my son does. Or my daughter. If not for yourself, you might make others feel more secure.’”

Instead of leaning on science, laws, or facts which people have a right to opinion and are debatable, lean on a strategy that appeals to them personally. By turning the tables and admitting to personal vulnerabilities instead of assigning blame, people will be much more likely to hear you out rather than shut down further discussion.

Emphasise the benefit to others

Placing the focus on a moral obligation to avoid putting others in danger has been an effective strategy used by governments all over the world.

 The slogan adopted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “Your mask may protect them. Their masks may protect you.” Throughout lockdowns, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continued to use the words, ”A team of 5 million”, highlighting that there is more than one person at risk during this tough time.

Harvard Business Review suggests “highlighting a gap” to increase a sense of freedom and control by pointing out a disconnect between thoughts and actions when it comes to wearing or not wearing a mask. In other words, what an individual might see as reasonable for themselves might differ in what they recommend for others.

For instance, while young people may believe they’re invincible to the virus, a good suggestion can be asking them how comfortable they would feel if an elderly grandparent was interacting with infected people. Would they be as comfortable in their grandparent’s shoes? Or in the shoes of someone who might come into contact with their grandparent?

 Ask questions, non-judgmentally

 Simply asking questions instead of presenting facts or statements can also come across as less hostile to an individual who feels inclined to go on the defence. Asking someone why they are not wearing a mask, instead of telling them to wear one gives people a chance to be heard, which lowers any defensiveness.

 There are many reasons why people don’t wear masks, hearing someone explain could provide an opportunity to problem-solve.

 Non-judgemental communication can be particularly effective with anti-maskers, as it doesn’t demonise or shame them for their actions. Instead, it establishes an open line of communication, which can go a long way towards convincing someone to wear a mask.