Wearing face masks has become the new normal, not only for healthcare workers, but also for the general public. However, with face masks covering majority of your face, using facial expressions to convey messages is a communication strategy that has now become hard to rely on.
Imagine a scenario where you’re walking through the grocery store and mistakenly overstep the six-feet social distancing rule, as you reach over someone else to grab something off the shelf. Normally, you would show off an apologetic smile, but now you say a quick “sorry” that comes out muffled and unheard by the other person. Interactions like this are sure to leave you frustrated with the limited communication tactics that masks have left us with.
As we begin to adapt to wearing face masks and coverings in public places, we also have to learn how to communicate effectively and in new ways. This is because it’s important to remember that how we communicate is just as important as the message that we are trying to convey others.
Read below for three methods that you can use to communicate effectively with a mask on:
Use your eyebrows and eyes
When we make a facial expression, our eyebrows and eyes are closely linked to the expression we’re trying to show. For example, your eyebrows pinch together, and you squint your eyes when you’re angry or frustrated. While, raised eyebrows along with wide eyes can show surprise or heightened happiness.
With your face covered, use your eyebrows and eyes to do some of the talking when trying to communicate in public. This tactic is best used in situations where you would rely on a simple facial expression to communicate something. For instance, grocery store cashiers will smile at customers to indicate they are ready to serve them next. With a face mask covering your expression, signal them over to your workstation and maintain friendly eye contact to properly acknowledge them. People consistently read faces to gather social cues. Though majority of our faces are now covered, you can still rely on your eyes to signal things and be mindful of how your eyes could send a powerful message to people.
Your body language is extremely powerful and useful when communicating and interacting with others. Non-verbal cues are very effective when expressing yourself in conversations or in social instances. Pay attention to how your hand gestures and posture can replace words and deliver a more meaningful message. To best use your body language when communicating, make sure your shoulders are relaxed, and your hands are not crossed in front of your body or hidden away in your pockets.
When in conversation with someone, you can use head nods to acknowledge that you are listening and understanding what the other person is communicating. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to maintain eye contact with the person speaking to show you are actively engaged.
Tone of voice
At the end of the day, words are always the fail-proof communication strategy. There are just some messages that cannot be replaced with simple hand gestures and so you have to speak with a mask on. I think we can all agree that masks pose a difficulty when trying to speak clearly. Masks tend to muffle our voices and they also conceal our mouths, which don’t allow people to read your lips as you speak.
That’s why tone of voice is especially important is situations where you’re wearing your mask and need to speak to someone. Your tone of voice is influenced by the speed that you’re speaking at and the pitch of your voice. For example, if you’re angry or frustrated, you’re more likely to speak faster and with a raised voice.
Try to make sure that your voice is reflective of the message you’re attempting to convey. Be straightforward when speaking and add in some hand gestures, as well as eye contact to better express yourself. Also, avoid fidgeting or touching your mask when you’re speaking with someone, as that just makes it harder for the other person to focus on what you are saying. But most important of all, remain calm and repeat yourself if necessary – remember that we’re all learning how to communicate in a new way.
We hope that you were able to learn new ways to communicate effectively, even with a mask on! Communication right now may be a little different, but it’s important as ever. Let’s continue to work together to create safe spaces in this environment.