The COVID-19 pandemic changed almost everything about our lives last year. Many of us spent several months at home, isolated from other people with the exception of video call meetings, text messages, and social media. For some of us, that meant we had very little, if any, social or business interactions held in-person. However, that is starting to change as more churches re-open, schools hold in-person classes, and offices open back up for workers.
When in-person interaction involves wearing a face mask, we lose the ability to read facial expressions with all the cues the mouth and lower faces provide to help express meaning. This means we have to adjust the way we communicate to make up for the loss.
What can we do? There has to be a solution.
Talk slowly, loudly, and look people in the eye. Apply basic speaking and communication principles first. Face masks cover our mouths and the best thing we can do is enunciate, or speak clearly, in order to make sure we are understandable. Mumbling is out of the question. Looking people in the eye will also help them concentrate on the words being spoken. Try not to be distracted. Focus on one another.
Speak with your hands. Use every part of your body to express your meaning. Gestures can help give your words context if the person you’re speaking to cannot hear you quite clearly enough. Try to be more animated than you ever thought you’d have to be. Use every tool you’ve been given to communicate clearly when your facial expressions aren’t available.
Use words intentionally. Because our facial expressions aren’t necessarily available when we wear a mask, the words we say become all the more important. Choose words carefully and intentionally. No longer can we be careless or flippant about our word choices. Being concise has value, but don’t be afraid also to give a little longer explanation if necessary.
Turn your attention to listening. More important than anything else we can do is to make an effort to listen carefully. We do so little listening in our society today. We spend a lot of time forming questions in our head while others are talking. We feel defensive if we hear something we don’t like. We get distracted by our phones or by other things happening around us. If we want to ensure genuine communication, even when we are wearing face masks, we have to turn our full attention to the person standing (or sitting) right in front of us.
Face masks were not in anyone’s plan for life. Many people would prefer not to wear them. But as long as they are a requirement for us in some situations, we can do our best to continue connecting and building relationships by putting in some additional effort when we speak and listen.