Face masks have become an important part of day-to-day life due to COVID-19. While masks keep their wearers and people around them safer from the transmission of the virus, they can also muffle words and hide facial expressions by covering the lower half of the face. That makes nonverbal communication, a very important part of interaction, more difficult to convey and perceive.
Nonverbal communication is so important to build rapport personally, socially, and professionally, especially in the work environment. Microexpressions, the likely signs of concealed emotions, are hidden or confused by masks. You can’t see someone smirking or wrinkling their nose under a mask. You also can’t see smiles or funny expressions meant to amuse and be friendly.
Studies show that when there’s a mismatch between what’s being said and what’s displayed nonverbally, people tend to trust the latter more. That means you need to be more aware of how to build rapport while wearing a face mask. Dustin York, director of undergraduate and graduate communications at Maryville University, outlines how to communicate better and build rapport with a face mask on.
Be Aware of Tone and Volume
Be aware of the quality of your voice while speaking with a mask on. Pause more to break up your speech into digestible blocks as your audience can’t see your mouth when you stop talking. Use different intonation and accentuate phrases to help both in understanding and hearing. Speak up, be aware of muttering or talking too softly, and watch your enunciation to counter the muffling effect of having something over your mouth. Be more animated in your messaging and convey the appropriate emotions like excitement, joy, and sympathy during conversations. Keep a friendly tone and try to make your voice convey smiling.
Practice Active Listening
Build rapport and increase your likeability by displaying interest in your interaction and acknowledging those in your conversation with head nods, sounds of understanding such as “mm hmm”, and asking occasional questions or saying phrases of participation such as “and what’s next?” and “go on” and “I’m listening”. Use paraphrasing and clarifying questions to show you are listening and trying to understand.
Positive Body Language
Without being able to see half of your face, body language becomes even more important with a face mask. To connect with your audience, be sure to use positive body language, like hand gestures and waves and head nods., Nodding in agreement or approval, and acknowledging when someone approaches or leaves with a friendly wave improves visual acknowledgment of everyone in the conversation.
Imitate the body language of the person you’re talking with but be careful to not overdo it. If they are standing, stand up. If they are sitting with relaxed hands on the surface in front of them, do the same. If they are leaning in toward you, lean in slightly toward them. Use mirroring sparingly so you don’t give the impression that you are mocking or miming your conversation partner.
Smile with Your Eyes
Smile widely while talking so your eyes take on the familiar appearance of a smiling face and you appear happy or delighted and friendly. Since masks cover the mouth and the actual smile, showing a friendly smile with your eyes becomes even more important to show you’re friendly, trustworthy, and engaged in the conversation.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends a few more tips for connecting when you’re wearing a face mask:
- Face whoever you speak to directly so there’s nothing between you or blocking your view of each other.
- Move to a quiet place with little traffic or crowds.
- When talking to someone new or who you don’t know, ask if they can hear and understand you well enough or if you can do something to make it easier for you both to talk and hear each other.
- Remember to stay aware of your audience and how they are hearing, understanding, and perceiving you when you are talking to make sure you connect well.