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Maintaining our humanity (and sanity) through the mask

Another day, another mask

By Lisa Frania, Guest Blogger

Thanks a lot, COVID-19 ... For now communication skills have imploded.

We’re not hanging with friends and family like we used to. We’ve been forced to cancel most of our much-needed travel and dinner plans, and we can’t rock out to our favorite artists at the concert venues we love! We’re standing at an awkward six-foot distance from others. And forget fashion—we look like we're about to rob a bank with half our faces covered up!

Sure, I probably don't flinch quite as much when I forget that shaking hands has become a thing of the past. And I have finally stopped applying a glob of lip gloss that acts like glue to the underside of my mask as I head out the door. I suppose, I probably even worry a little bit less about how I look in my mask.

Honestly, though, when I am in social situations (at the grocery store, seated in a restaurant, passing neighbors when I walk my dog), I still feel awkward. I find that I laugh nervously from behind my mask. At least I’m smiling; are they?

Despite finding some sense of "new normal" as COVID-19 has lingered now for far too long, I doubt I'm alone when I say that living with our mouths (and half our faces) covered has made communication close to impossible at times. 

So, what can we do to improve communication during the era of the mask?

British Vogue includes a few reminders to become more intentional and step up our communication skills to deal with the times we’re living in.

1. Speak up!

Since it can be harder now to hear someone’s voice from behind the masks (don’t forget to speak up!), we can’t rely on the mouth or forget to pay attention to the eyes when we talk to people (especially at a distance). If we do, we are likely to miss the full story.

2. "Smize" aka smile with your eyes.

Ladders reminds us that Tyra Banks’ famous term “Smize” was a brilliant addition to her show America’s Next Top Model a few years ago. When coining the term, she wanted the contestants to smile with their eyes. Who knew she’d be giving all of us such great advice for 2020?

A piece of good news in all this is that the eyes are truly the windows to the soul. Our eyes tear up when we’re sad. We roll our eyes when we feel angry or irritated. They narrow and squint when we’re suspicious and widen when we feel concerned about something.

The eyebrows need some equal attention too. Raising the brow can show interest, suspicion, surprise, where furrowing the brow could make you appear angry or aggressive. Being hyperaware of nonverbal eye communication is key in the era of the mask.

3. Body language is key.

Tone of voice and body language have become more important than ever in a masked world. In fact, Psychology Today estimates that 80-90% of all body language is non-verbal, according to Ladders.

So pay attention to visual cues too. How a person stands, sits, uses hands, crosses arms, etc., will indicate moods and feelings attached to the message as well. 

As more states enforce (or continue to enforce) the mask mandate as part of our new normal in 2020 and beyond, we need to continue to understand others—and be fully understood by those around us.

Direct eye contact, smiles, and conversation are going to be important ways to heal us during these challenging times and will serve us well post-COVID-19 too!

 

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