How to Handle Social Situations in a Socially Distant World

Former Obama Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall provides insight into what etiquette looks like in the midst of a pandemic.

Social distancing from loved ones, friends, and colleagues has become our new normal over the last few months. Until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, what were formerly considered common polite gestures — like hugging or shaking hands — are now not only off-limits, but also dangerous in the spread of the illness.

This drastic change in social behavior sparks a number of questions, including how to perform simple greetings or what to say to friends or family who aren’t necessarily practicing social distancing. To help us address these concerns, we spoke to Capricia Penavic Marshall, the former Chief of Protocol under the Obama administration and author of the new book Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You. Ahead, she shares how we can mind our manners as we try our best to keep each other safe.

Assume kindness in others.

Marshall believes one should always assume kindness and be vigilant in practicing civility — because we’re all in this together. “The virus has no enemies and it has no friends. You have no idea when and how it will affect you or your loved ones,” she said. “So, just keeping that mindset of, ‘we are all in this together,’ is really, really important.”

Use more verbal cues to make your point.

Now that more and more people are wearing masks, Marshall emphasized that it can be difficult to pick up on someone’s emotions, much less hear what they say. “Use your language — communicate your joy, be a more verbal person,” Marshall said. And remember that your mask can muffle your voice, so speak louder, raise your voice a pitch and enunciate as clearly as you possibly can as well.”

Be upfront and clear about your rules.

If you’re worried about meeting up with someone who may not be practicing social distancing, Marshall recommends setting the ground rules before they arrive. “Make no assumptions that your guests or your clients are going to know what exactly they’re supposed to do — send notifications in advance,” she said.

If they aren’t open to abiding by your rules, Marshall said to not be afraid of backing out of the engagement. “If they decide that they cannot conform to that behavior then, you just have to sort of say ‘at another time’ or ‘we’ll do this by video,’” she said.

Practice having a flexible mindset when making plans.

While Marshall acknowledges that all of the uncertainties can feel immobilizing, she believes having a flexible mindset and being adaptable can make all the difference. “Set a plan, make the plan — don’t be held up by the what-ifs,” she said. “You can be confounded by the what-ifs.”

When in doubt, reach out and help others.

“Sometimes just a quick note to let people know that you are here to help them gives someone that burst of support and joy that they needed,” she said. Marshall shared that both she and her son have both joined an email Listserv to help those in their community who need additional support. She said several people have pitched in to deliver groceries or offered to mow each other’s lawns.

“When you are blessed and you have the opportunity to help those who are less fortunate, you just should step forward — you have to step forward,” she said.

This originally appeared on Medium