10 Strategies for Better Masked Communications
People often say, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” and reference that “Your eye is the lamp of your body.” And even though our faces are mostly covered up right now (as we meet, greet, and work with one another beyond the sanctuaries of our homes), we know that one day we will all meet again, fully faced. So then, as these above reflections apply to this time of Covid-19, we can glean at least one solid point of comfort and hope… “The eyes have it!” As for the balance of our faces, we surrender to the sentiment expressed by 17th century French philosopher René Descartes: “Masked, I advance.”
Masks are no longer optional. Mandatory is the order of the day, in more ways than one—and for good reason. We must continue adjusting to these facial “adornments” as best as we can, for even if a vaccine is discovered “any day now” we must still await the completion of clinical trails, mass production and distribution phases before returning to any semblance of old days and ways “normalcy.”
So, for the time being, we must attune our ears to hearing a smile, and seeing a smile through the lamp of the eye of the person before us. (This present-day reality gives the old song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, for example, a whole new meaning!) ;) And remember that that other person before us will hear and see the same from us, too, if we remember to smile underneath “that thing!”
When working on your most effective and thoughtful “masked communications” consider these Top 10 Tips, Tricks and Techniques:
1. Speak as clearly as you can. Slow down a bit and make sure that you enunciate your words. Certain words will be muffled and misunderstood if mumbled. It’s not necessarily about speaking louder, but rather, more clearly and slowly—being mindful, as well, of your voice tone and cadence.
2. Disposable, light blue masks with elastic ear loops abound, but since masks are here to stay for quite some months (if not longer), try making/customizing and personalizing your face garb. They might even make for some lovely, light-hearted Christmas gifts! You could even hold a Zoom brainstorming session with family, friends or workplace colleagues to sleuth out various ways one can personalize their mask! Perhaps there’s a fundraiser in that idea???
3. If using disposable facemasks with elastic ear loops always remember to cut or break off these stretchy bits before discarding, so that once they end up in landfill sites they won’t fatally get caught in birds’ and other small animals’ claws/feet and legs.
4. Use the other person’s name to get their attention before speaking.
5. Our faces are so expressive. Since three quarters of them are now visually unavailable to the other (for interpretation), be sure to compensate with expressive body language (just a little; don’t overdramatized—that might just be too funny; or even weird and scary!).
6. If you can’t hear the other through their mask, this is not a time to be polite. Let the speaker know that you’ve not heard their words clearly.
7. Better still, get ahead of the curve and ask at the start of conversation if the person with whom you’re speaking can hear you well enough.
8. If uncertain that you’ve heard correctly, you can also employ the classic communication tool of paraphrasing what you thought you heard the other say, and/or ask follow up questions.
9. Heighten your awareness of the noisiness of the environment in which you’re engaging in conversation. Are there air ducts/vents rattling away, echoes, other conversations happening too close by? Move to a quieter place and space if that’s the case.
10. The eyes may, indeed, “have it” most of all right now, but so do your eyes’ brows. Short of a Botox injection (lol) your eyebrows are terribly expressive—even without your awareness. Under these current circumstances, be mindful of how much you can communicate merely with your brows (whether during these masked times, or at any time, for that matter). Consider how the finest actors can communicate so much with their brows without uttering a word. You can too. For example, your eyebrows can say: “Huh?” “I don’t understand.” Or, “Wonderful!” “Amazing!” “That’s just silly!” “Oh brother!” or even, “For goodness sake, give me a break!” And, the same strategy goes for your smile. If your cheeks lift up, thanks to a big toothy grin—despite that no one can actually see your teeth—the other person will see the lift of the apples of your cheeks under your mask’s fabric, and they will know that you are smiling. So be sure to give all of your face that little extra muscle workout. Daily. ☺ And consider crow’s feet a blessing and communications benefit!
As mask wearing becomes even more second nature in these weeks and months ahead, so too, I hope, will at least some of these suggestions for bringing your best-masked self to any of your upcoming “face-to-face” conversations. And when all of this is behind us—when we get to the point where we look back at this Covid time and say, “What the heck was that?”—perhaps we will all continue to be mindful of these 10 strategies for ensuring better communications every day, all the rest of our lives. Wouldn’t that be great?!
Meanwhile, take to heart the message expressed in the lyrics of this song every time you adorn your mask for yet another crazy Covid day:
“You look good darlin’, I don’t care. Woo! You look so good, baby, whatever you wear. Winter, spring, honey, anything, summer, fall—anything at all—you can’t hide the you you’ve got inside!
— These lyrics are drawn from a 1977 song sung by Canadian (Vancouverite), Joani Taylor; written by Joseph Fahrni. Despite a narrow distribution for the times, it sold a large number of records in Western Canada only—not so well known in Eastern Canada. Too bad about that because it was, and still is, a playful, happy, uplifting, feel-good tune. I suspect this melody will stick with you if you seek it out on YouTube! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N89YTiWoB5c
Enjoy it and remember the message!☺
And lastly, in recognition of this most exceptional 2020 Thanksgiving weekend, I share with you, from the bottom of my heart, the following:
One fitting-for-the-times (slightly tweaked) reflection/quotation, and…
One beautifully-worded dinner table grace (that just might work perfectly for your celebration, however small this year’s gathering may be):
Reflect on your present [workplace and any place] blessings, of which every person has many;
not on your past [or present] misfortunes, of which all people have some.
— [modified from] Charles Dickens
Give us thankful hearts in this the season of Thy Thanksgiving.
May we be thankful for health and strength, for sun and rain and peace.
Let us seize the day and the opportunity and strive for that greatness of spirit
that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities,
and let us ever remember that true gratitude and appreciation shows itself
neither in independence, nor satisfaction,
but passes the gift joyfully on in a larger and better form.
— W. E. B. Du Bois, from the book, A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles, Conari Press, Berkeley, CA, 1994, page 51.