AWO Webinar Focuses On Overcoming Resistance To Wearing Face Masks

The American Waterways Operators recently presented a webinar for its members on how to identify and overcome resistance among team members to behaviors to combat COVID-19. The webinar comes as advice from health experts on how best to deal with the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to adjust and evolve, as the presentation acknowledges.

The webinar is part of what AWO is calling its “Summer of Safety,” which includes a series of online webinars and events calling attention to safe practices and exploring ways to implement them. The title of this one was “But I Don’t Want To Wear My Mask!” Its virtual format replaces what was originally planned to be a live event in August in Chicago. It was given by Sharon Lipinski, a workplace strategies consultant, author, speaker and “habits superhero.”

After being introduced by Brian Bailey, AWO’s director of safety and stewardship, and Marino Hwang, marine compliance manager at McAllister Towing Company, Lipinski began by referring to several recent tentative and uncertain COVID reopenings. An auto plant reopened only to have to immediately shut down again as cases spiked, and a recent cluster of COVID hot spots erupted in Austin, Texas, construction sites.

Based on a survey of 1,000 employees, Lipinski identified six reasons why employees might push back against advice to wear a mask or do other preventive behaviors.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

• If they are simply uninformed, that is easy to fix with the right information. However, she said, it’s unlikely that anyone is truly uninformed with the flood of information available.

• They might be confused by conflicting information from health experts and authorities, as the advice even from authorities like the Centers for Disease Control has changed. In this case, the right approach is to be humble and nimble: “We don’t have all the answers and the strategies may change, but for right now this is the best advice we have.”

• They might feel invincible, especially younger employees. Human beings are not rational calculators, Lipinski said; we tend to make decisions based on emotions that we justify afterward with rationalizations. Many people (not just men) might have a desire not to appear “weak” in front of their peers. These resisters need to see prudent behavior rewarded and reinforced among their peers.

• Some may believe they know more than the experts, especially since some information is conflicting or has evolved.

• In our polarized culture, tribal identity based on politics, class, region and other factors is now a factor in COVID responses. The answer to that, Lipinski said, is to foster a “work tribe” with shared values articulated by input from all stakeholders.

• Finally, many of us just naturally rebel at being told what to do.

Lipinski discussed the various communication styles that can address each of these causes of resistance. Leaders should avoid triggering the know-it-alls by taking care not to be overly authoritative or dismissive and should not treat team members like children who just need to be told what to do. Listening will have to come before pronouncements, she said.

Start With Values

Lipinski recommends that team discussion start with an articulation of common values, with input from everyone, using questions like “What is important to us?” “What do we want to achieve out of our COVID responses?”

Next, she said, “tell a better story” about how values connect to behaviors. Shared experiences from those team members who know people affected by COVID, and their responses, can build a “back road” through many of the defensive responses.

The next step is to generate ownership of behavior changes and to identify areas of flexibility and accommodation. This is a key step in forming a “work tribe,” she said. Feedback must be built into this process, and follow-up is important as well. But don’t ask survey questions or use other forms of feedback if you are not committed to using the results, Lipinski said, and building them into the response.

Throughout the webinar, AWO members texted answers to questions about their organizations’ COVID responses, with some reporting near-universal compliance, and others reporting various percentages of compliance.

A video of the webinar is available at