How to Convince Others for Social Distancing: COVID-19

As per the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, “recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19. The best way to prevent COVID is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Social distancing helps limit contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces.” Since no vaccine is available at the current moment to prevent COVID-19, the best measure to prevent the disease is social/ physical distancing.

Every day the number of infected people is increasing and if it will continue to increase at such a high rate, health systems will face a battle where life saving essentials and trained health workers will start exhausting at a very fast rate. Our health system will collapse soon without trained medical professionals. That is the reason why front-line workers from all over the world are pleading everyone to stay at home.

It is very heartbreaking to see that some people do not understand the importance of staying at home and social isolation. For those of us who do understand, it is a very helpless feeling to have to silently watch those around us make decisions that put their own and other’s lives in danger. Therefore, many have asked questions about how to convince others. To help you with this process, here are few tips on how to convince your friend or a family member to take part in disease prevention practices or to stay at home during this pandemic.

1. Have the right timing & approach:

It is essential to make sure that you find the right time for the conversation. Choose a time when they are more relaxed and are in a happy mood. No one likes being told what to do when they’re already having a bad day. Once you start the conversation,  remember to listen to them carefully and be open. Let them share their thoughts and concerns regarding social isolation. During the talk, try to use the word “we” as much as possible to create a sense of common ground.  Discuss both pros and cons of social isolation and explain to them why you strongly believe in taking this step. It will be a lot easier to convince people if a person they respect and trust tries to convince them.

2. Try to understand them better:

Rule number one in persuading anyone is to make sure to speak the same language as them. A strategy that is often taught in the debate is to match the type of reasoning that is being used by the person in front of you. For instance, if the person is using rational arguments, you have to make sure your arguments are also rational. If the person is using emotional reasoning, you should influence them with your emotional intelligence. If the person is basing their argument on the economy or finances, do not bring in a moral argument because this will not work. They will shut out anything that you say as soon as you start speaking from a different angle.

Therefore, in order to do this correctly, you need to know why this person doesn’t believe in social isolation (or handwashing… etc.).

Some common reasons are:

  • They do not have enough or correct information about COVID-19 and likely believe that everyone else is over-reacting
  • They feel bored at home and don’t know how to entertain themselves
  • They are in a denial mode and do not want to accept reality. Denying the existence and severity of the pandemic may be their way of coping with the anxiety and stress
  • They do not like being constrained and following rules that they do not find a need for
  • They think that even if they do contract COVID-19, they will beat the virus (because they are young and healthy) and therefore do not need to take any precautions

It is very important to know their concerns so that you can address them in order to convince them.

3. Explain to them the importance of self isolation:

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Maintaining good social distance is very important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

The CDC website also mentions that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” So, by staying at home, you can limit the number of surfaces touched by multiple people and help in reducing its ability to spread from one person to another.

4. Rationalize with facts and figures:

Provide them with information from reliable sources like the local health authority website or the WHO website. Facts, unlike opinions, are agreed upon by the majority of people and are, therefore, a great place to start. Educate them with real-time statistics (numbers can often speak louder than words!), the importance of social distancing, and tips for social distancing.

It is also extremely helpful to be equipped to discuss the social, psychological, and economic impact of the pandemic globally in the long-run.

As per a BBC report, “investors fear the spread of the coronavirus will destroy economic growth and that government action may not be enough to stop the decline.” Economists predict the global economy will go into recession soon and it will only get worse if we do not take steps to stop the spread of the virus. Economists from the International Monetary Fund are recommending nations to make the health of the population their number one financial priority.

As per the CNBC report, “researchers are warning that the coronavirus pandemic could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma on an unprecedented global scale. They say it could leave millions of wrestling with debilitating psychological disorders.” Therefore, if the person who you are trying to convince is arguing that going to parties is better for their mental health, help them understand that the spread of the pandemic will have a much more significant impact on the mental health of the whole world in the span of a few months.

As per an article written by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic may also increase inequality, exclusion, discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term.” This is an important point to bring up to those who are more concerned about the social implications of the virus than the health ones.

5. Use your emotional intelligence:

If you cannot change their minds with facts and figures, use your emotional intelligence to find and unclog their emotional blocks. But for that, you first need to build a rapport by demonstrating that you understand how they feel. After a strong positive relationship and atmosphere have been built, present your points to them in a calm and slow manner.

On the Relatively Interesting blog by Gleb Tsipursky, a behavioral scientist at Ohio State University, there is a useful guide on how to deal with reality deniers. In his guide he says, “after placing yourself on the same side, building up trust and establishing an emotional connection, move on to the problem at hand: their emotional block. The key here is to show them, without arousing a defensive or aggressive response, how their current truth denialism undermines their own goals in the long term.”

You can use this conversation as an opportunity to show them how hard front-line workers are working day and night to cope with the virus. They are putting their lives in danger to treat the infected people. They are overworked and have not seen their families in weeks!. For the sake of humanity, we have a responsibility to respect their service and sacrifice by staying at home and following social distancing guidelines.

6. Offer them alternatives if they don’t know how to spend time at home:

If they do not want to stay at home because they are bored and do not know how to spend time, find different productive ways to keep them busy at home. Explain to them it is physical distancing, not emotional distancing. They can facetime/chat with their friends and make this time more enjoyable and fun with different activities.

They can balance out their time at home with some entertainment, some physical activities, and with some learning activities. Change how you spend every day to keep it fun and engaging. Here are 60 ways to make the most of your social isolation.

7. Show them projections of the future:

Sometimes you can convince a person by projecting the potential loss. Perhaps the best kind of information you can give them is a comparison of consequences and future projections with and without social isolation. (see Figure below).


Show them the condition of the countries who neglected social distancing in the initial stages of the virus. This is an amazing video by Italian citizens.

This video is a way for Italians to warn other countries and share with them what they wish they knew about COVID-19 before it was too late. Show this video to the person you are trying to convince – it is bound to work.

As per one article on regarding why coronavirus hit Italy so hard, “young people working and socializing in urban areas interact with large crowds, where they may pick up the disease and take it home. If they have no symptoms, they’ll have no clue that they’re infecting their elders, the most vulnerable population.” Explain to the person you are convincing to stay at home that initially, infected people show no symptoms so they unknowingly pass the virus within families and communities. This can result in an aggravated “silent” spread of the virus.

Explain to them that if they don’t do it right now, tomorrow they may regret their decisions like the individuals in Italy. It also invokes a sense of urgency by projecting real-time statistics to them. Sometimes a sense of urgency helps persuade people.

8. Showcase the good examples:

Let them know what other people are doing right. Show them the statistics of the countries who are strictly following the social isolation recommendations and are consequently able to control the outbreak. For example, many Asian nations have slowed the spread more successfully with the help of social-distancing measures.

Some celebrities have really done a great job of promoting social distancing on their social media accounts. Show them what their favorite celebrity has to say!

Also, show that you have complete faith in their intelligence, social consciousness, and other positive traits. Let them know that you have confidence that soon they will understand the importance of staying at home and social isolation. Sometimes all you need to convince someone is a little positivity.

9. Incentives, guilt or flattery – try whatever works:

Offer attractive incentives to convenience them. For example, if your kids are not ready to stay at home and insisting on going to the park, you can try to bribe them with cookies or by promising to play games with them.

Use the magic of reciprocity- do something nice or favorable for them. Since we are all conditioned to give back, it may be wise to follow-up with a small request to stay at home. If required, convince them with a little flattery!

Explain to them this is not only for their personal safety, but it is also for their loved ones. As good citizens and human beings, we must understand our responsibility towards the most vulnerable populations and help local health authorities control the spread of the virus by social distancing.

In short, flattery, inducements, reciprocity – try everything to encourage them to stay at home.

10. Patience and persistence are the key:

Be consistent in your efforts, do not give up. Negotiate if required, listen all their concerns, and convenience them gently. Don’t get irritated or act emotionally in case of disagreement – handle the situation tactfully. Do not lose patience and continue to convince them until you get succeed. 


The biggest problem with COVID-19 is its exponential growth. Social distancing is an effective measure slowing down the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve of the COVID-19. This will give some time to our health system to cope with this pandemic. The sooner we understand the importance of social distancing, the more we will be successful in preventing an unmanageable peak of cases. Instead of finding loopholes in social distancing, we must strictly follow the social distancing guidelines provided by our local health authorities.

While convincing someone, be clear, be patient, and be ready with all your facts and arguments. If they show any concern or give you reasons why they do not want to do social distancing, address them, and find solutions for them to stay persistent because persistence pays.

Remember to balance the negative with the positive! Not only should you inform them about the negative implications of not isolating socially, but you should also show them the benefits of social isolation. Compliments, flattery, incentives, or bartering – do whatever it takes to persuade. Most importantly, inspire them with your actions and be a good role model.

We have already lost many precious lives due to our ignorance in this pandemic... lets not lose more.

Stay home and stay safe!

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