Social Distancing and Fist Fights: Get ready for Fight Club
Updated: Apr 28
After strict lockdowns across the world, governments are slowly easing stay at home orders and permitting people to reemerge from their homes. While initially the questions revolved around a specific date when we could flip the switch and get back to normal, now there is a realization that the return to normalcy will be a process that will be executed in phases.
As restrictions ease, social distancing or physical distancing is the guiding principle to stay safe. However, if you have been to a supermarket either during the lockdown or more recently, I can guarantee that at some point in time you felt uncomfortable being around people who did not seem to observe the advice as much as you did.
This period of staying at home to #FlattenTheCurve has succeeded in creating three people groups. At the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we rallied the cry - #InThisTogether. While this is true, we are not in the same boat. Yes, we are in the same storm but not the same boat. While we were at home, it was like we were in our individual boats. What we did within the confines of our homes did not affect anyone else. However, when we step out into the world, what we do affects others.
The three people groups represent everyone in our society. They react to the pandemic’s social distancing differently. The irony though is that each of them believes that they are right, and it is difficult to convince them otherwise. This creates the perfect breeding ground for conflict.
Three People Groups
Those who are ‘informed’ are people who have spent a lot of time watching news broadcasts over the past few months. They have paid heed to experts and have researched relevant topics and have engaged in discussions. They understand the merits of the rules and even when the restrictions are eased are cautious because they understand the gravity of the situation.
Those who are categorized as ‘ill-informed’ are people who have been picking and choosing information from single or multiple sources and have created strong opinions by micro-analyzing information that on the surface is based on fact. Their strong belief is that the fuss about Covid-19 is an over-reaction by weak minded people. Their confirmation bias leads them to consume content that reinforces their existing beliefs and biases.
It seems hard to believe that there would be people who have no idea of what is happening around the planet. While we would like to believe that people like this do not exist, they do, and they are all around us. The ‘uninformed’ do not understand to gravity of the situation and as a result do not understand the reason for different measures being put in place.
Over the next few months, we need to expect a great deal of conflict as these three people groups interact in the marketplace. When you are standing in queue and have ensured you are a few feet away from the person in front of you, you may have someone stand right next to you or a foot behind you. For people who are ‘informed’ these situations will drive them crazy. As we get back to work, this frustration will extend to the workplace as well. There will always be a collogue who insists on shaking hands and not wearing a mask, while there will be those who would rather come to work in medical grade PPE. The interaction of those who take the situation seriously with those who believe this is just a conspiracy will raise tempers in retail and office environments.
The role of the Government is to provide broad guidelines and not police common sense. This is where organizations need to be aware that if there is a fresh outbreak of the virus, strict action will be taken in a targeted manner singling out specific hotspots. These hotspots could be retail stores, entertainment venues, offices or even entire industries.
Essentially what this means is that organizations and industry bodies need to ensure they have policies and procedures in place that ensure that employees and customers visiting their establishment are safe and at ease. Expecting staff or customers to ‘work this out’ for themselves is like giving a group of 3-year-olds who have never met each other a chocolate bar and asking them to work out who gets what.
Organizations need to step up and address the situation. This is where you can get creative. While signs all over the place are useful and mandatory, they will eventually be ignored. Look at your own business and see how you can be creative to ensure that all three people groups are able to enjoy doing business with you. I know of a supermarket that introduced a fun mascot who goes around entertaining people and subtly making sure people physically distance themselves. This worked for them and they took this as an opportunity to engage with customers within the parameters that they were given.
Remember that not putting in place and policing your own policy will result in massive loss of business if people just don’t feel comfortable doing business with you. Furthermore, you could get sued, fined or even shut down. Financial recovery from that point would be extremely challenging. Your policy should cover guidelines for safe behavior, violation consequences, emergency protocols and conflict resolution. Prepare yourself for verbal and physical fights on your premises. You need to know in advance how you will deal with this without putting your own staff at risk.
People are on edge. Understand that not everyone believes what you believe. Some people use masks, and some don’t. Some will continue to use them for the next 10 years, while some will stop the day the government suspends the rule. Each of us needs to develop patience while we strive to not become patients.
As an individual, don’t just do what makes you feel comfortable. When you enter the marketplace, remember that things have changed. Be mindful that there are others who are sharing your space. Look out for them and ensure they are comfortable as well. Don’t ridicule or pass judgment on others but work together to weather the storm. Social distancing is the new normal for the next few months. Tempers will be high, and arguments may end in fist fights. When that is about to happen, make sure your mask is on correctly and remember to avoid deep breaths.