25 Jun 2020

4 tips for communicating with a mask on

Many shops in the UK have now reopened, and further lockdown easing will come into force next weekend. As our interaction with the outside world – and other people – gradually increases, many of us will choose to wear masks or face coverings in public places. Indeed, these are mandatory in certain settings, such as on public transport and in hospitals.

Covering the bottom half of our faces can present communication challenges, concealing one’s expression and muffling speech. Wearing one can also make us feel ‘closed off’ from the world, while seeing others in masks can induce a sense of wariness. 

So how can you remain friendly and approachable, even with a mask on? Here are some simple tips:

  • Don’t shy away from eye contact

We’re all still getting used to the new normal, but eye contact will become even more important when we can’t gauge each others’ expressions. Eye contact is the basis of trust, releasing chemicals like oxytocin in the brain. If someone doesn't look us in the eye it’s safer for our subconscious mind to assume that we can’t trust that person rather than that they may be nervous.

  • Remember it’s still OK to smile

Your mouth may be covered, but a smile is still visible in your eyes and the rest of your face. It can also be audible in your speech, making you sound warmer and friendlier, so remember to keep smiling even from behind your mask.

  • Speak more distinctly

A face covering muffles speech and eliminates the possibility of lip-reading for those with hearing difficulties. Raise your voice and speak as clearly as possible to make yourself heard.

  • Be mindful of your body language

Debrett’s coaches sometimes use an exercise in which participants put on masks and adopt a range of poses, to illustrate the importance of body language and of how much can be apparent from our posture and gestures when our faces are invisible. Keep your body language positive and open - avoid slouching or crossing your arms - if you want to come across as friendly and approachable.

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