Just because I like looking at things from a different angle, I’ve been thinking about how I’d encourage people to wear masks if I were their personal coach. Honestly, I got the idea from looking at a couple dozen various memes and arguments, and becoming curious about what I’d do differently.
This actually fits in pretty well with what personal coaching is all about. As I see it, my job is to encourage and to train people to adopt and to maintain new habits that will bring them better results in life, including habits that improve or maintain physical health. It’s my goal to take people from where they are to where they want to be, and sometimes I have some ideas on how they can get there. So, if I were to coach a client on the value of wearing masks, and to teach them how to keep the habit, what would I say?
Of course I wouldn’t just tell them to wear a mask. It doesn’t take any skills to say that, or to say it angrily for that matter. I’d be a lousy coach if I just said, “Wear a mask”. I’d be a lousier coach if I told them it was an obvious thing to do, or if I called them names or demeaned them personally for not wearing one. My clients have had plenty of people hound them in their lives, and that didn’t get them where they want to be. They come to me for a different approach.
Of course, not everyone is autistic — heck, not even all my past or potential clients are. These days, though, people are experiencing more moments and aspects of autism. People are feeling more attacked or encroached on, and are more likely to counterattack in response, or simply to defy what they see as bossy orders. It’s basic human psychology — forbidding something makes it more enticing, and mandating it makes it more undesirable, and either way we sometimes forget whether what is mandated or forbidden is a good idea.
Feeling attacked while scrolling through social media can be natural. To put it bluntly, most of the memes and arguments I’ve read, regarding masks, are things I would never say to a client. They consist of yelling, questioning people’s intelligence and maturity, and calls for coercion. Not only is that unkind, but it’s counter-productive. In my experience, people are more likely to argue or to resist than to listen fully to what I have to say, let alone to heed or to follow it.
Aside from military training, which has a pragmatically sound purpose — to help condition personnel to win battles — people generally respond poorly to someone who says, “You’re an asshole, now do what I tell you!” I know I’d hate doing what such a person tells me, especially if, after they nag me for so long, I follow their advice — say, by starting to wear a mask. I’d imagine them feeling a swaggering sense of victory and saying, “About time you started making sense!”
This is why, if I were trying to persuade people to wear a mask, I’d take an approach that is as close to the complete opposite of the prevailing tone of the social-media posts I’ve seen. As I see it, most of the memes follow the cliche of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. I would do something different.
Now, at this time, I should mention that there are people who have legitimate medical or psychological reasons not to wear a mask. I would stop teaching them the habit, then and there, and instead concentrate on other precautions, such as ordering mostly online and curbside service.
I would not bombard anyone with infection rates, death rates, curves, or any other stats. Nor would I assign them responsibility for other people’s lives. That’s a very easy way to overload someone, which can be just as good as yelling. It also sounds like an exaggeration when people compare someone who doesn’t wear a mask to Thanos or something. Instead, I’d bring it down to Earth, and I’d talk about being cool.
I’d start by saying that I understand how they got in the state of mind they’re in now. As I said above, I truly do understand why some people hate masks, without considering the benefits thereof. Even if I didn’t, I don’t see my clients as going from bad to good, but from good to better — it sounds like motivational-guru stuff, but in actuality I got it from Mister Rogers.
I might say something like: “You might be at the supermarket, and some guy pushing the six-foot halo — he doesn’t know it, but he caught the virus. Wouldn’t it be cool if that guy is wearing a mask, and you don’t catch what he’s got? Because if he breathes or coughs into the mask, that’s going to catch most of what contains the virus.”
And then I might bring it home via the Golden Rule: “OK, so as far as you know, you don’t have the virus. That’s fair. But if you do, and you don’t know it — it’s cool to do what you wish that guy at the supermarket would. Even if whoever walks next to you just gets sick for a couple days, that still sucks.”
And then I’d move on. Too much justification feels like beating something into their heads or nagging which, again, is counter-productive.
I’d move on to what kind of mask to get. Maybe I’d help them look at different masks, to see what kind might be most comfortable for them — my favorite is a neck gaiter, made of Under Armour-style fabric, that some friends from a gift exchange got me. I’d help them make a plan to carry a reserve in their car, and to carry their favorite one in their handbag or pocket. I’d talk about how inexpensive the plain ones are — three for $10 at Costco, for instance. Or, if they had a sewing machine, which I actually do, I’d help them design and sew it — yes, I have tailored my own clothes.
Maybe I’d make a few more points, if I could do so without overloading my client. Maybe it would take a while to sink in, which is fine as long as the client takes other precautions. Maybe I’d bring up Mister Rogers or someone else who says it’s cool to be a good neighbor. Maybe I’d give them examples of heroes who covered their mouths as part of their costume. Or, maybe what I just listed would be enough.
It’s understandable that when a little pressure doesn’t work, the first thought that occurs to many is, to increase the pressure. It’s also understandable that pressure doesn’t always get results. Thousands of years ago, Aesop described, in The Wind and the Sun, how a light touch actually can be more persuasive. Applying that lesson here, as I generally do in my coaching, is potentially effective and definitely not harmful or overwhelming.
The only real shift that’s required to use this same sort of method is, to stop being angry at those who aren’t wearing masks, at least when trying to persuade them. If we’re trying to change the current situation, that’s enough of a statement about what we think of the status quo without adding put-downs on for good measure.