Face masks. They've altered the way we communicate face-to-face, causing many of us to feel frustrated at our lost ability to read how others feel and convey our own emotions. Yet there are many simple ways to restore satisfying interactions despite face coverings. We asked our speech pathologists, who are experienced in working with people with communication challenges, to pass on tips that can be used in any day-to-day situation, from chatting with the barista to disciplining kids at the supermarket.
While they may help prevent the spread of disease (good!), these new health essentials have also fundamentally changed how we communicate and connect (challenging). Without a full range of facial expressions (an estimated 55% of communication is non-verbal), the social skills that help us to feel connected don’t work as they did. Minus the smile, that friendly joke in the supermarket queue is met with suspicious silence. Or fellow walkers look down as they hurry past. Such experiences may make us feel alienated or disconnected.
So how can you overcome communication barriers while wearing a mask? We asked our speech pathologists and psychologists to share some tactics they use to help clients with speech, language and hearing difficulties and difficulties with emotional expression and interpersonal relating.
1. Ramp up gestures. Think a thumbs up, nodding your head and demonstrative hand gestures. If you can’t smile, acknowledge a person using the social nod or tilt. Also exaggerate upper-face expressions and tilt your head back as you laugh.
2. Laugh it off. Rather than letting the mask cause division, diffuse the discomfort by making it a point of common ground. It may be as simple as asking, ‘Do your ear loops do this too?’ If someone is wearing a stylish mask, consider complimenting the person or asking where they got it, as you might with a regular item of clothing.
3. Over-articulate. It might feel awkward, but over-enunciate to reduce the risk of mishearing or misunderstanding, since ‘normal’ verbal communication relies partly on lip reading and facial expressions to compensate for missed words. Likewise, increase your vocal volume. Even if it sounds loud to you, it will sound ‘normal’ to the receiver.
If you or someone in your care struggles with communication, consider consulting a speech and language pathologist, who is expertly versed in exercises and techniques to improve and increase the satisfaction of interpersonal interactions.