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What to Say When… Conversation Tips for Socializing After Isolation

Now that fully vaccinated people are resuming some pre-pandemic activities, we’re all trying to get back in the groove of being together in public.

After more than a year of wearing masks and social distancing, it’s only natural to feel awkward in social situations — to be worried or overwhelmed about what to do or say.

Am I standing too close to someone? Am I talking too much? How do I tell people I feel safer keeping my mask on? What do I say to my cousin who hasn’t been vaccinated?

To help you navigate this tricky time, we’ve rounded up some useful tactics for awkward conversations.

What to say when … you want to keep your mask on.

You don’t ever have to justify wearing a mask, but if someone does mention it, here’s what you can say.

Animation of woman asking question

Why this works: Acknowledging the awkwardness and keeping the focus on yourself instead of others helps diffuse any tension. Making a joke also shows you’re not insisting the other person wear a mask.

What to say when … you’re invited to a social activity where you’re unsure about attending because you don’t know the host’s or guests’ vaccination status.

But what if the person extending the invitation makes fun of your polite but firm response? Try to avoid making assumptions or being judgmental — focus your response on yourself, not the other person.

Why this works: Showing appreciation for being included shows you value your relationship with them. Setting a polite but firm boundary is a good way to take care of your needs without getting into a conversation you may not feel ready to have.

What to say when … you want to extend an invitation but aren’t sure of the person’s comfort level.

Why this works: Showing interest by asking questions and remaining nonjudgmental are two important active listening skills that help relationships blossom. This empathetic approach also shows you understand that the “rules” for socializing are changing with the times — and so are you!

If someone declines your invitation and you’re feeling disappointed, here are some tips to help you bounce back.

How to Ease Your Social Anxiety

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed about socializing in person, here are some other tips to keep in mind.


  • Start slowly

    Keep your in-person interactions short and sweet at first. Make your first get-together a one-to-one meeting with a friend rather than a larger gathering; this will give you some time to get used to being around people again. Be sure to have an “exit plan” in case you get tired or feel anxious.

  • Visualize before you go

    Take a few minutes to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and talk yourself through any conversations that may be making you feel nervous.

  • Set boundaries

    If someone goes in for a hug or handshake, it’s OK to say, “I know we’re vaccinated but I’m just not ready. How about an air hug?” Honor other peoples’ boundaries, too; ask questions before you offer a hug or a handshake.

  • Communicate

    Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand expectations. “Are we masks on or masks off around here?”

  • Be kind

    Everyone is navigating uncharted waters in this pandemic, and that includes how we act around each other right now. Approach conversations with empathy and authenticity. Most of all, be kind to yourself as you reach out to others. You can do this

For more tips for staying healthy and connected during times like these, visit Connect2Affect.

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