Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): dealing with awkward social situations - guidance

Published: 7 Dec 2020

Information to support anyone who may struggle with challenging or awkward social situations when interacting with other people under the current coronavirus restrictions.

7 Dec 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): dealing with awkward social situations - guidance

Research has shown that over 80% of people in Scotland have felt awkward when trying to follow the rules and the majority have worried about appearing rude or hurting someone’s feelings. Often, framing what you say as an offer rather than a request will help to reduce tension. For example, rather than saying “please wear a mask”, make an offer “do you need a mask? I’ve several spare ones”. This shows care and cooperation and is more likely to result in a positive outcome.

See below some practical guidance on what to do and say in the following difficult social situations:

A friend goes in for a hug or handshake

Changing how we say hello to one another isn’t easy. Being honest about it can make things easier.

“I so want to hug you! But I guess we have to wait until it’s safe. I don’t want to risk harming you or anyone else you are in contact with. I’m giving you a virtual hug”

Someone you know removes their mask indoors

You’ve seen a colleague in a coffee shop and they take off their mask to speak to you. Always assume that people have the best intentions, and that they may have forgotten or misunderstood the current guidance. In this situation, you could offer an explanation and an alternative.

“Let’s catch up outside? Where there’s space to keep a wee distance”

Someone sits too close to you on public transport

Someone is too close to you on public transport. Try making a polite offer with care...

“I’m happy to move if that’s easier for you?”

The rules are there to protect us all so if the person becomes confrontational it’s ok to report it to the nearest staff member.

Someone in public isn’t adhering to a 2-metre distance

A stranger is standing too close to you in the supermarket and isn’t keeping a 2-metre distance. Moving yourself away will remove the need for you to say something. Remember that the person may not realise they’re too close or have forgotten the guidance. If you still need to say something, give them a friendly reminder.

“I’ll step back and give you some space – it’s tricky in busy spaces to keep to 2 metres apart isn’t it?”

If someone refuses to comply it’s ok to walk away from the situation (and report if necessary).

Declining an offer from a friend when guidance isn’t being followed

It’s ok to politely decline an offer to do something if it’s a situation where the guidance isn’t being followed. Remember this festive season if you have formed a bubble, you can’t meet with anyone outside of your bubble.

If a friend invites you to birthday drinks at their house, try providing a positive reason for declining and offer an alternative.

“I wouldn’t want to risk infecting you – that would be the worst birthday present ever. Let’s have a birthday zoom and plan a bigger celebration when it’s safe to get together”