“Masking” Our Emotions: How to Communicate Effectively While Wearing a Mask

Workers in the office during pandemic wearing medical masks

You never really think about how much you say with your facial expressions, until more than half your face is covered by a mask. Although necessary for fighting the novel coronavirus, masks can hinder communication, particularly in the workplace, where those tiny facial cues help to establish trust, convey sincerity, and lend credibility to our words.

Whether you’re pitching a project to a client, asking for a promotion, or trying to ace a job interview, here are some expert tips to help you communicate professionally and effectively while wearing a mask.

Use Projection and Inflection

Masks have a muffling affect, so speak up, but be careful not to shout. If you tend to mumble or speak quickly, concentrate on enunciating your words and slow down your speech. Remember, those listening will no longer have the added benefit of lip reading to help them follow along. When appropriate, use the tone of your voice to express emotions, such as excitement, surprise, gratitude or sympathy.  

Smile with Your Eyes

Eye contact shows you are interested and engaged, but your eyes also play a crucial role in conveying your smile while wearing a mask. For many people this happens naturally, by way of creases, or laugh lines, that appear at the corners of the eyes. However, it’s not the case for everyone. To make sure your smile reaches your eyes, check the mirror, and practice intentionally wrinkling your eyes when you smile until it feels natural.

Talk with Your Hands

We may not be able to shake hands, but we can still greet clients and coworkers with a friendly wave. Likewise, using gestures while speaking can help to convey meaning and emotion. Obviously you don’t want to do it to the point that it becomes distracting to your colleagues, but think of your gestures like emojis. Perhaps a “thumbs up” to suggest agreement or good news, and a slight bow of the head with your hands in prayer pose to indicate sympathy or gratitude.   

Pause & Practice Active Listening

Since those listening can’t see your mouth, they don’t necessarily know when you are stopping for a response, so make a point to noticeably pause and give others a chance to jump in. Alternatively, when others are speaking, show you are engaged by periodically nodding and saying, “Mm Hmm.” If they pause, affirm interest by saying, “Go ahead, I’m listening,” or “What happened next?” And use paraphrasing, or responses like, “So what you mean is …” to show you understand what they are saying.  

Be Aware of Body Language & Use Mirroring

Try not to cross your arms, which can signal you’re closed off or disinterested, and make sure your feet and body are facing the person speaking. If your toes are pointing toward the door, or you are on the edge of your seat, this can subconsciously be interpreted as lack of interest. Unsure of how to stand or act? Consider mirroring, or imitating the body language of the person or group with whom you’re communicating. This is something that often happens unconsciously, but doing it intentionally – as long as it doesn’t become obvious – can help build rapport.

More Tips for Effective Communication

Masks appear to be here to stay, at least until we have a COVID-19 vaccine. However, the effort you put into improving your communication skills now, will continue to benefit you, and help you to be a better communicator, even after we’re able to take off the masks.

For more business communication tips, check out these articles:

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