Masked Self-Expression

Those of us who have returned to work are grateful to be able to see and help our clients and students again, even in this new, cautious environment. Taking extra-special care of others and ourselves seems natural, as well as a necessary part of the health care we provide. The trouble is, I’m finding it difficult to express myself with a mask covering much of my face.

My normal communications include so much body language, especially my facial expressions. So how can I be sure my intended messages are getting through in my in-person conversations with clients and students, from behind a mask? Is there anything I can do differently in my verbal communications to improve the chances of my intended message getting through?

I decided to revisit chapters 4 and 5 in The Ethics of Touch, the chapters that cover Communications, to see if there are any relevant recommendations.

Reduce the Noise

It is always necessary to reduce the noise in a conversation, but especially when speaking behind a mask. Noise is the interference often caused by the way we say things, making it more difficult for someone to understand the actual message we want to convey. Things like ambiguous or vague comments, contradictory statements, and redundancy. In chapter 4 (page 84), there is a chart of noisy communication behaviors that I have printed out for myself, so I can practice being more aware of them in order to reduce my use of them. I’ve decided to share a few here, in case you might also benefit in your communications with clients and students, and maybe even with your friends and family.

Noise Communication Behaviors

  • Yes-But: Avoid saying yes and no at the same time. “Sure, it costs more to come twice a week, but…”
  • Mind-Read: Avoid talking like I know what someone else is thinking or feeling. “I can tell you’re…”
  • Leading Question: Avoid questions that pressure someone to agree with me. “Aren’t you uncomfortable?”

Strive for Clarity

Chapter 5 discusses reflecting, which I find extremely helpful in clarifying what I’m saying and what I’m hearing from others through their masks. Reflection helps me be a good listener because putting something in my own words and reflecting it back requires me to actually pay attention to the meaning of the message. And, asking others to reflect back to me, allows me to confirm that I did in fact communicate in a way that conveys my own message clearly. If it wasn’t clear, I’ve then got a chance to try again to be understood.

Here are a few other physical ways I can communicate, without the help of my facial expressions:

  • Face the person.
  • Lean in slightly.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Nod my head.

Is anyone else out there feeling a cramped sense of self-expression while wearing a mask? Please share what you are doing to help yourself adjust in the comments below…