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How to Talk to an Anti-Masker

With mask-wearing mandated at in-person events, planners should be ready for conversations with people who are opposed to the rule.

If your organization plans to hold face-to-face meetings with employees or clients, face masks will be the norm for the foreseeable future—perhaps for all of 2021. Anecdotally, this doesn’t seem to be a pressing problem for planners. Meeting organizers largely report compliance with the new in-person event protocols.

However, some questions arise about how safe people feel at receptions when masks come off for cocktails, and there’s no denying a deep divide remains in the U.S. between those who wear masks and anti-maskers. In light of this, the on-site meeting team must be ready to ask attendees to mask up in ways that won’t make anyone defensive or emotional.

While a simple reminder may work for most attendees, people who believe that a mask mandate infringes on their rights could be a challenge. An article in the science magazine Nautilus suggests that “mask shaming” is not an effective approach for encouraging people to cover up, nor is talking about science or facts. Rather, strategies that focus on the benefits to others are more persuasive, and the article offers tactics for better communication with people who push back against the rules. If an attendee takes offense to the mandate, don’t dismiss his or her concerns, but ask them to consider the freedoms of people who can’t move away from them in a meeting environment.

A recent Fast Company article tackles the same topic, with a focus on communicating with strangers in public. A University of Pennsylvania researcher commenting in the piece believes that a successful approach to avoiding a power struggle is to treat mask-wearing as a social norm, “akin to wearing pants,” which will appeal to people’s underlying desire to fit in.


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