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Communication in the Age of Face Masks

Is mask-wearing changing human communication?

COVID-19 and Its Impact on Communication

One of the most blatant societal changes developed from the spread of COVID-19 was the normalization of face masks. This is no doubt a measure necessary in reducing the spread of the virus. However, there are also noticeable downsides to this universal shift. Specifically, masks have forced us to frequently rely solely on verbal communication.

Why is this so important?

Recent research has found that wearing masks significantly affects our pathways of communication. First off, we are far less able to recognize emotions. Second, we are more likely to misinterpret them. Similarly to communicating through text, when the mask covers most of your face, it can be difficult to get your message across. These findings entirely align with the manner in which humans process others. That is, we generally process faces holistically rather than through individual features. Thus, this time presents new challenges in regard to communicating and interpreting others.

Studies about human communication have found that over 65 percent of communication is nonverbal. For instance, we often rely on facial expression to interpret someone’s message, attitude, or emotions. Specifically, the mouth and eyes are most informative in interpreting messages; subconsciously, we examine the combined movements in order to understand. Thus, the pandemic and ensuing containment measures have provided us with unique challenges; we now have to work harder to interpret and communicate, which can be obstructed further due to masks muffling our words.

Improving Communication

Luckily there are small ways to improve communication during this stressful time. Moreover, by simply understanding the ways in which mask-wearing obstructs communication, you can be more conscious in engaging in meaningful connection. In addition, improving communication will allow you to reduce stress through the pandemic.

As our eyes are crucial for communication, they are of the utmost importance right now. Be more conscious in your conversations, taking the time to maintain eye contact. You can also practice making more gestures with your eyes, such as raising your eyebrows, narrowing your eyes, scrunching your brow, and widening your eyes. Another way to make up for lost communication is to use more physical gestures. For instance, using waves, head nods, and finger gestures can help to reduce miscommunications.

Other communication changes you can make are very manageable and just require a little effort. First, always face the other person; this will allow them to ensure you are focused and listening. Additionally, be as physically close as you can without breaching health guidelines. An easy strategy is to speak as clearly as you can; this includes not speaking too quickly or quietly. Finally, be conscious of the environment; make sure you have adequate lighting, which aids eye contact, and try to reduce all environmental noises and distractions.

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