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: