Tip Sheets

How to effectively ask a colleague to mask up at work

Media Contact

Gillian Smith

As more people return to the workplace, some may fear the uncomfortable prospect of having to ask a colleague to mask up at work.

Vanessa Bohns

Professor of Organizational Behavior

Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School, studies social influence and the psychology of compliance. She offers the following suggestions for how to make–the potentially tricky–request more effective. Additional advice from Bohns on this topic can be found here.

Bohns says: 

Prepare a script. Part of what makes it hard to say something in the moment is that we often find ourselves searching for the words. Before you find yourself in that situation, decide in advance what you will say.

Use some face-saving phrases in your script. Basically, you want your script to avoid any judgment of the other person for failing to wear a mask. You could do so by blaming changing policies (e.g., "I know our policies keep changing, but right now we're asking people to wear masks…”) or turning it around to make it about you, not them (e.g., "I've got kids in daycare, so it would make me feel better if I knew I was less likely to expose you to anything…”; "I have a high-risk individual at home, so I'm being extra careful…”). 

Be direct. Follow-up your face-saving script with a direct request that makes it crystal clear what you're asking them to do (e.g., “...so, can you please put on your mask?”).”

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