The pandemic has put a strain on relationships of all varieties, but it’s hard not to feel resentful watching IG stories of friends who clearly aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously anymore. We’ve all seen the photos: big groups on boats (with no masks!), “socially distanced” vacations to Florida (of all places!), bachelorette parties “the pandemic can’t stop” (I’m sorry, what?!).
I get it; we’re in day 1 million of this pandemic but with new cases still being reported every day, life isn’t back to “normal” no matter how badly we wish it were. That hasn’t stopped friends and family members from acting like everything is fine—which can be frustrating.
“During this time where people are very stressed because things are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and sustained over a long period of time, it is not surprising that when you are taking care of yourself and doing what you can to protect yourself and others by wearing a mask, that you are going to have very strong feelings if you are seeing people doing less than that,” says Robin Stern, cofounder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
We know mask-shaming doesn’t work, so how do you talk to your ~chillaxed~ loved ones? And how do you do it in a way that will make them want to listen and not write you off as a buzzkill (or, as it’s known in other circles, a responsible citizen)? Most importantly, how do you keep potential resentment from building and potentially driving a wedge in your relationship during an already fraught time? We turned to Stern to find out.
1. Check in with yourself first.
“If you want to have a successful conversation where you want someone to listen to your message, not just hear your anger, then you need to take a minute first to regulate your own emotions,” says Stern.
In other words, while your immediate instinct might be to say, “WTF, you’ve got to be kidding me,” to the cousin posting group selfies from the “socially distant” wedding she went to last weekend, this likely won’t get you far. Regulating your emotions, will put you in a calmer mindset so you can think clearly and communicate in the most effective way. Take a deep breath to clear your head—and your inner rage—before you jump in.
2. Know your audience.
Take into account what kinds of information your loved one might respond best to. For example, if you’re talking to a friend who likes to watch the news or is interested in science but is going to the store without a mask, you might want to focus your talking points based on data.
Alternatively, if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe in the science or rejects it (we see you, cousin Rune), you might consider sharing a personal story. Maybe you know of someone who went to a large party or gathering where there were no masks or social distancing practices and they caught COVID-19—an anecdote like this might be more effective instead of relying on statistics or news sources they may not support.
3. Listen and ask curious questions.
Even if you vehemently disagree with the fact that your best friend from high school is going to a house party, listening and staying curious is important for moving the conversation forward in a positive way. Stern calls this being an “emotion scientist.”
“An emotion scientist, as opposed to an emotion judge, is someone who is curious, open, accepting, and listening—not critical, dismissive, and closed-minded," says Stern. In these cases, being the “listener” carries more weight than being the “knower.”
By asking curious questions, you are inviting the other person to give you more information about where they stand and why. Stern recommends deploying language such as:
“I’m really interested to know what you’re thinking about. Why did you make that decision?”
“Many people, including myself, are wearing masks and you’re not wearing one. I’m worried about that.”
In other words, it’s important to come from a place of sharing what you think and how you feel instead of preaching or lecturing. The goal is to get their point of view and to see if you can listen from a place of empathy, says Stern. Then you can say, “I understand why that makes sense to you. Here’s what I hear. Here’s why I see it differently.”
4. Know your boundaries.
“Knowing your own limits—what is okay with you and what is not—is really important. As is having the courage to say what they are without being confrontational,” says Stern. “You don’t have to start a fight. Think of it as a conversation, not confrontation.”
If you feel caught off guard or like you’re at a standstill, Stern recommends saying the following:
“I appreciate how you feel.”
“I see how that makes sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I really understand how you came to that conclusion” or “I don’t understand how you came to that conclusion, but that’s okay. You are entitled to have that conclusion, but I can’t be around you if you’re not wearing a mask.”
“Let get together another time” or “Let’s make our next get-together a Zoom.”
On that note, if you’re making plans to hang out and are worried the other person isn’t going to follow health and safety precautions, it’s okay to draw a line—you have the choice to respectfully decline an invitation to come over for dinner.
You can also be clear about your boundaries upfront. Say, “I’d love to get lunch next week but only if we can go to an outdoor cafe and keep our masks on when we’re not eating.”
5. Be aware of your tone.
“Be mindful of your tone of voice, as well as your words, so that you’re less likely to sound judgmental or critical,” says Stern. “It’s a difficult time for everyone. We all are deserving of compassion and patience.”
Instead, try your best to come to the conversation with positivity and openness. “You might even say, ‘You know, this is hard for me. I care about you and I’m upset about this. I know you have the right to make your own decisions, but it would help me to better understand what lead you to decide not to wear a mask,’” says Stern.
6. Be realistic about your expectations.
No matter how daunting these types of conversations can seem, they don’t have to tear your relationship apart. “It’s challenging, but at the same time, it’s possible if you can really accept that people feel differently about things, events, and information,” says Stern.
If you can’t change a person’s mind, at the very least you might be able to plant a seed of change—just because somebody doesn’t put their mask on that very moment, that doesn’t mean that you haven’t made an impact at all. “As long as you say to yourself, ‘I’d love for this to be the outcome, but I’m going to have the conversation regardless of the outcome because I want them to hear my point of view and feelings even though I know I can’t control the other person,’” says Stern. Keep in mind the things you can control: You can share your feelings. You can share information. And you can control your own behavior.
Taylor Trudon is a writer based in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @taylortrudon.
Originally Appeared on Glamour