tips for communicating with a mask on

Photo: Ashley Lawrence
Here are instructions for making this mask.

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time pretending to be The Phantom of the Opera, Darth Vader, or Cat Woman, this whole mask-wearing thing is probably new for you. And, let’s be honest, it takes some getting used to.

Is it just us, or have you found yourself talking louder and/or gesticulating wildly to make sure you’re getting your message across in spite of your mask? These are real concerns because many of us rely heavily on facial cues to convey meaning or understand what someone else is trying to communicate. And, especially for those who are hard-of-hearing, lip-reading can also be a big help. But now, our faces are largely covered up when we’re out in public or interacting with at-risk populations. So, how can we communicate more effectively, more creatively, and even more stylishly, from behind our masks?

1. Let your eyes do the talking

It’s always a good idea to make and maintain eye contact while you’re talking to someone, but this is even more important now. For some of us, this can be uncomfortable or feel awkward, but it shows you are engaged in the conversation and will help you focus. Also, it might sound counterintuitive, but make an effort to be more expressive than usual with your facial expressions—because even though your smile (or pout!) might not be visible, your eyes will reflect what you’re feeling.

2. If you’re wearing makeup, go bold

You may have scrapped your makeup routine these days, and that’s a-okay. But, for some people, it still creates a comforting sense of normalcy and self-care. So, if you’re putting on eye shadow, eyeliner, and/or mascara, why not go bold? Add some shimmer, try a new color or design, anything to accentuate your eyes. Beauty and style trends are already forming around face masks, and pretty much anything goes—so embrace the opportunity to experiment and go glam, and maybe you’ll even make someone smile when they see your beautiful, unique eyes.

3. Write it down

If you’re trying to communicate with someone who’s really struggling to understand what you’re saying, write it down. If you don’t have paper and pencil, you can type the message out on your smartphone and show it to them. This might sound silly, but in some situations it just might be your best bet.

4. When in doubt, hand gestures

Hand gestures can go a long way in helping you get your message across. Yes, we all learned that, “It’s not nice to point,” but so long as you’re not ridiculing someone, pointing is your friend right now. 

5. Humanize yourself when it can make a difference

Taking a page from the medical workers who are already doing this…if there’s a situation where you want people to at least be able to see what your whole face looks like, pin a photo of yourself (preferably one where you’re smiling!) to your clothing. There’s of course no need to do this for a trip to the grocery store or when you’re picking up take-out—but if you work or volunteer in an environment where you are interacting with children, the elderly, or anyone for whom the sight of a smiling face could be reassuring, give it a try. 

The bottom line? Use everything at your disposal to create a 360-degree approach to communication in these strange times. Be clear with your words and gestures, try to be extra expressive, and embrace a sense of creativity and compassion.

Do you have any other great tips for communicating from behind your mask? We’d love to hear.

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