How Can You Encourage People to Wear a Mask?

We’ve been masking up for a year now, and it’s only natural that some of us are starting to get tired of wearing masks, or to wonder when we’ll be able to get back to the mask-free days that we remember from the “before times”. If you’re still out there fighting the good fight and diligently wearing your mask, we salute you and appreciate that you still want to be part of the solution! But what can you do if people you care about - or those you meet in public places - don’t want to get with the program? Here are some ideas for getting your message across effectively - and, with any luck, getting more masks onto people’s faces.

In addition to researching tips and advice from public health authorities and other medical experts, also spoke with Toronto-based photographer/videographer and Bike Brigade volunteer Brian Tao, whose videos of his interactions with anti-mask protestors went viral in the summer of 2020 and earned him an invitation to the Dr Phil Show to talk about the experience. We chatted with him to get a local and personal perspective on how to make the case for mask-wearing and how to engage with people who aren’t on board.

Tip #1: Understand where they’re coming from.

While the vocal anti-mask protestors may get the most airtime on the news, it’s important to remember that they’re just a small - if loud - minority. At this point in the pandemic, most people know where to get masks, how to use them, and why it’s important to wear them. So if someone is hesitant to wear a mask, it may be for a more specific, personal reason, like finding their mask uncomfortable or just being sick and tired of wearing one all the time. Understanding where they’re coming from - and why they feel that way - will help you figure out the best way to continue the discussion.

Tip #2: Sympathize and empathize.

We all know that wearing a mask probably isn’t most people’s favourite thing in the world. Says Brian Tao, “I think we all recognize that, if we didn't have to wear masks, we probably wouldn't. But the whole thing is that there are more upsides than there are downsides.” If a person’s main concern is that masks are uncomfortable or inconvenient, it can help to acknowledge that you - and the rest of the world - have often felt the same way.

Tip #3. Look for practical solutions.

If a person’s main objection is that masks are uncomfortable, there are lots of suggestions you can make for improving their comfort. Although many regions had to cope with mask shortages early on in the pandemic, in most of Canada there are now lots of different sizes, shapes, and materials available. Perhaps your friend just needs to try a few different styles to find the one that feels best. There are also plenty of accessories available that can make mask-wearing more comfortable, such as “ear saver” strap extenders, and support frames that can hold the fabric away from your face and improve air circulation. (And if people are looking for a high-quality, made-in-Canada mask that also gives back to the community and protects people in vulnerable situations, feel free to direct them to!) “I think a lot of people will respond positively if you can say, ‘In the perfect world, we wouldn't want to wear masks, but since we have to wear masks, here's how to make it the best experience possible,’” says Tao.

Similarly, if people find that they often forget to take a mask when going out, there are some simple ways for them to remind themselves, or to make sure they have a mask on hand when they need one. Suggest that they keep a stash of clean masks in the car glove box or in coat pockets, or that they have some handy hooks or a basket of masks next to the door as a reminder. Simple tricks and tweaks can often make a big difference.

Tip #4. Fight misinformation - sensitively.

If you’re talking with someone who is feeling swayed by some anti-mask arguments but isn’t totally convinced, there’s a good opportunity to do some myth-busting, as long as you’re considerate about it. “With the really vocal anti-mask people, I feel like they're never going to change because they'll just keep actively seeking out information to support their worldview,” says Tao. “But if you throw out the crazier conspiracy-theory stuff, there's going to be a certain core of truth that does resonate with people who are more on the sidelines.” So it can often be constructive if you acknowledge how people are feeling about whether the government has done a good job of protecting public health, or the effect that prolonged lockdowns can have on businesses and people’s mental health. But at the same time, it’s important to talk about why some of the conclusions that many anti-mask groups take from these concerns are actually making the problem worse. “With some of these protest groups, their whole goal is that we should end the lockdowns now,” says Tao. “Well, yeah, we might have been able to do that a few months ago, if they hadn’t gone around congregating in large groups and telling people to refuse to wear masks! Those actions are probably a major component of why we are still in a lockdown. So they just shot themselves in the foot, and everyone else's feet, by doing this.” So if your friend is longing to return to a mask-free world, encourage them to keep doing the right thing - the best way to get there sooner is if we all follow the best current public health advice and rules for a bit longer.

What are your thoughts and experiences on talking to people about wearing masks? If you’d like to continue this conversation on your own social media, please share this article and comment!


Some additional tips and resources for encouraging mask-wearing: