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Face Masks and Communication: What Needs to Change?

man and woman communicating from underneath face masks
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In some parts of the world, face coverings have been the norm for some time; in others, religious veils that cover the mouth are worn by many. However, in the UK and multiple other countries, face masks are part of the new normal, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

From muffling the voice to preventing lipreading – important not just for deaf or hard of hearing individuals, but also people conversing in an unfamiliar language – face masks can cause communication issues. But in a world where they are deemed necessary to keep us safe, these challenges must be overcome.

Finding a New Way to Interact

Interactions with people outside of our households are now having to take place at a distance, often while wearing a face covering. Patience is key to effective communication in this new normal – we’re all adapting and learning as we go right now.

When wearing a face mask, make sure you’re talking clearly, loudly and slowly – face coverings can muffle the voice, so speaking in this way could improve your chances of being understood.

On that note, you should ask if the person you’re conversing with has understood you before moving on to avoid any miscommunications, and don’t be afraid to use prompts such as writing things down or in your phone to help you to communicate more efficiently – this can be particularly useful when not everyone is fluent in the language being spoken.

In healthcare and travel settings, where getting the right message across is vital, especially in the midst of a pandemic, the challenges presented by face coverings may require the services of an interpreter, whether that’s virtually or physically. Learn more about Language Connect’s interpreting services.

Communicate with Your Eyes

The eyes – and eyebrows – can be just as expressive as the mouth. When you’re wearing a face covering, try to communicate using your eyes instead.

For example, where a smirk or a smile would usually convey sarcasm, opt for a wink instead. And even if no one can see your mouth, smile regardless – its effects will extend to your eyes.

Be Mindful of Your Body Language

Exaggerated body language can be used to convey meaning when wearing a face covering. Try to get into the habit of exaggerating nods and shakes of the head, and pointing rather than simply saying ‘over there’ or ‘that one’.

However, it’s important to be mindful that some gestures can take on different meanings across different cultures. One example if the thumbs up gesture – a positive symbol denoting confirmation in the Western world, but an offensive gesture in parts of the Middle East, including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don’t Mask Your Personality

Face coverings can be a talking point by themselves. Take Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for instance. She has been pictured wearing a face mask made from a charity tartan, supporting a good cause, displaying national pride and setting an example to others all at once.

Wearing a homemade or quirkily patterned mask can be a good way to make a statement, showcasing your personality to the people you meet, at a time when facial expressions are limited.

The New Normal for Marketing Materials

If your business operates in a retail, travel, healthcare or even arts and leisure setting, it would be a good idea to update your marketing materials, particularly any digital assets, to show people wearing face coverings to set the expectation for customers, patients or clients.

Be mindful that the rules around face masks are changing quickly at the moment, so you need to stay on top of this. What’s more, different countries have different guidance where face coverings are concerned, so this needs to be reflected across your international communications. If you need support with any associated translations, get in touch with Language Connect to find out how we could help.

Language Connect delivers fast, accurate language translation services 24 hours a day