How to Ask Someone to Wear a Mask Without Starting a Fight

There are a lot of people these days who are in the unenviable situation of having to enforce a company’s mask (or other) policy with customers. If that’s you, then you know how stressful it can be. Not only is it something you probably hadn’t signed up for as part of your original job description, but there are some customers out there who just aren’t very nice about the whole thing. What do you do?

It’s a three-part answer.

1. Ask Nicely

Sure, this seems obvious, but the words you choose and your tone of voice make all the difference. For example, if you just open with, “Excuse me, you gotta have a mask,” or simply, “No-one is allowed in without a mask,” you’re just asking for trouble. Although it might seem the expedient way to you, it can come across as rude or argumentative. The thing to remember is that the vast majority of people aren’t trying to be difficult, and just need a gentle reminder. You want to avoid embarrassing them or making them feel they’ve been scolded.

A better way

A better approach would be to give your customer the benefit of the doubt with something like: “Oh, I think you forgot your mask.” Or, you could frame it as a polite question: i.e.: “Excuse me, do you have a mask you can put on?”

2. Stand Your Ground

It starts to get tricky when you encounter a customer who pushes back. Some will try and negotiate with you. Some will launch into a lecture regarding their feelings about wearing masks. What you absolutely don’t want to do is fall into the trap of arguing with them. Trying to justify your company’s policy, or getting defensive, will most likely just escalate things. This is where the Talk Judo technique of Standing your Ground comes in. It involves three parts: Empathy, restating your position, and, when available, providing an alternative solution.

Here are a couple of examples:

  1. “I wish I could just let you run in, but we can’t make any exceptions. I do have some masks here, however, if you would like.”
  2. “I completely understand how you feel, but unfortunately, we just can’t make any exceptions.”

If a person keeps wanting to argue, your best approach is to simply keep empathizing with statements like, “I wish I could.” Again, whatever you do, don’t risk making things worse by arguing with them.

These approaches don’t work 100% of the time, of course (nothing does), but they do work. They also have the added advantage of positioning you in a positive light to any other customers who may be watching.

3. Manage the Tone of Your Voice

We’ve all heard the adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” It’s true – particularly in conflict situations. Your voice skills are critical in these kinds of situations.

The science tells us that, when asking someone to do something, a slightly faster speaking speed combined with a modulated, descending pitch and moderate volume will give you the best results. This requires practice and a tactical use of your voice, because, like most people, both your pitch and volume will naturally want to rise.

When in a position where you need to stand your ground, however, slightly slowing your speaking speed and lowering your pitch and volume will create the best outcome. (Belding Training has just launched an important new e-learning course, Voice Mastery for Telephone, Learning & Business, on this topic.)

Good luck!

Shaun Belding

“People may not always acknowledge your kindness, but they will never forget it either.”

Voice Mastery for Telephone, Learning & Business

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2 Responses

  1. This is great! I work for guest services at an upscale mall, and we have a mandatory mask mandate here. This is an issue we encounter everyday!

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