Communicating with people not following social distancing protocol

 In Group coaching

“How do I communicate with people who are not following social distancing protocol?”

I’ve seen this question get asked a lot the past week as social distancing measures are being more strictly implemented and suggested. There is the looming threat that soon it will not be a suggestion, but have to be enforced using the military and police. That is a legitimately scary thought and many do not want it to become the reality. So what can you do if you see your neighbour, friend or local business owner ignoring protocol? 

Many of us are in a really fearful place right now. These are unprecedented times and overall we are quite unprepared. Seeing people not take social distancing seriously can make us feel angry and scared, and we easily become enraged or we feel hopeless and don’t know what to do. 

Our communication skills are crucial right now. We need to remember what we know and we need to use it. This is when our skills are really being put to the test. So for those that need a crash course review, here we go. 

How to communicate with people who are not following social distancing protocol:

Before you rush to judgement, take a minute and assume the best.

Many people are struggling right now and not everyone can self isolate or participate in social distancing the way we want them to. Not everyone has a safe place to go. Not everyone has financial support available to them. Some people are doing crucial frontline work and putting themselves at risk (knowingly) because they have no choice. Assume that their behaviour is coming from a place of urgency, desperation or fear, and not from ignorance or maliciousness. This softens rage and judgement and instead opens up our compassion. 

Dialogue not debate.

Don’t go into the conversation trying to win the person over to your position. Yes, we want people to practice social distancing right now, but dialogues become debates when we are only trying to convince someone to take our position. You can express your concern and explain your point of view while still acknowledging the other person’s. People are likely to be super sensitive to judgement right now so we need to be critical with our approach. It might take more than one conversation. 

Offer facts and resources.

Is the person afraid of losing income? Provide them with information such as government funding options or contactless forms of continuing their work (examples: online or delivery). Is the person confident they won’t get sick or they’re lonely or bored? Offer facts and resources on how their behaviour is increasing risk, and ways they can still maintain connection using distance. Scolding someone and then just walking away will unlikely do much to change someone’s position, but showing them that there are other options may give them the motivation to do some research and try out new options.

Organize community action.

If you are noticing that someone you know is seriously putting others at risk, consider contacting other people they know and getting them to intervene, as well. There is strength in community now more than ever. Rather than calling the police, call people in your community; get in touch with local community groups offering support; strategize with any mutuals you have, etc. But super importantly: call and email your government officials and demand they offer adequate social support so that ALL people receive proper protection and have the ability to self isolate. 

Enact and enforce consequences.

If someone you know is acting irresponsibly and you’ve tried the above, you can enact and enforce consequences. Remember, they are not the same as punishment. We are not taking away anyone’s dignity or critical resources, but we are demonstrating that irresponsible behaviour leads to consequences. For example: stopping to communicate with them or refusing their offers to interact. 

For those who feel they need a review in de-escalation techniques, you can review my posts on what causes escalation and common mistakes people make during tough conversations.

Please, remember to protect yourself and your families right now(chosen and bio). If someone is seriously threatening your safety and you’ve tried all you can, it is best to distance yourself from them. Get support from friends and family, ask for resources, call a support line, etc. Be safe and remember that we are stronger together. 


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