How to politely tell someone to keep their social distance

Updated: May. 5, 2020 at 5:34 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - We’ve probably all experienced it recently. You go to the store and someone gets a little too close to you while waiting in line at the check-out. So, how do we politely tell a stranger to keep their social distance?

Don’t be quick to yell at someone if they get too close to your space. Dr. Tracy Stephenson Shaffer is the chair of the Department of Communications at LSU. She said not everybody is out to get you sick.

“Assume that everyone has good intentions,” she said.

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Dr. Shaffer explained people tend to feel less stressed out in public if they are generally healthy. Therefore, they may not be as conscious of social distancing practices. However, there is a way to politely react if someone pops your bubble. Dr. Shaffer created the acronym, ‘REST.’

When I am in a situation where someone’s distance from me is making me uncomfortable, I think the first thing I need to do it reflect,” she said.

‘R’ is for reflect. Dr. Shaffer recommended you look at your surroundings, first, and think about where you’re standing.

“Put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Why are they maybe moving closer to us?”

Next, is ‘E’ for eyes. Even in a mask, use your eye contact and expressions to communicate your feelings.

Maybe that eye contact can communicate worry or concern that the person is getting too close,” said Dr. Shaffer.

If reflection or eye contact don’t work, move onto the ‘S’ and ‘T.’

“Then we’re allowed to make a statement, ‘S.’ And I add the ‘T’ because I think the statement should be made with tact. Tact is just a sensitivity to other people.”

A polite statement or question can go a long way. Dr. Shaffer gave an example of what that might sound like.

“I’m really concerned about my immune system. Can you please keep your social distance?”

Dr. Shaffer said you can also create a mental script before you go out. Prepare a polite statement in your head in case someone does get too close to you. This may prevent a more aggressive confrontation.

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