Communicating effectively beyond the mask
A year after much of the country entered strict lockdowns designed to contain the coronavirus, President Joe Biden is moving closer to slowly lifting restrictions across the state of New York now that the vaccine rollout is underway.
As companies adapt to new ways of working and leaders find new ways of communicating, it has prompted me to consider how, as leaders, we can still find powerful ways of communicating whilst there is still a mask order across the city.
Masks hide our facial expressions, which amount to almost 55% of non-verbal communication. When half our facial expressions are covered, it can be hard for our brains to recalibrate and pick up those all-important non-verbal cues. Moreover, reading faces helps us understand context within social interactions—because while someone may be saying he’s happy, his face may be expressing a very different feeling.
Here are some ways leaders can prepare to communicate effectively beyond the mask:
Increasing eye contact
Make and maintain eye contact as much as possible. This not only helps to get their attention, eye contact provides a point of reference. You can also engage your eyebrows and forehead more when speaking (for example, to express amazement or shock). When you smile with a mask, it can help soften your dialogue so that your tone dictates more about how you are feeling.
Slowing down the pace
The mask creates a physical barrier to certain consonants, particularly f, s, sh, and th. By slowing down your delivery, it gives the listener more time to process what you are actually saying.
It goes without saying that with the face partially concealed, body language plays a key role in how we communicate whilst wearing a mask. Take a note of your posture. Always maintain an upright posture so you look alert and interested.
Hand gestures are also important when wearing a mask. Whilst you don’t want too much arm flapping whilst you’re communicating, you can still use open gestures to help reinforce your message. Small props weaved into your story or message can also help your audience maintain and adjust their focus so they stay alert and interested.
When someone doesn’t hear us, we have a tendency to repeat what we have said, but louder. However, this just leads to more frustration for both you (the speaker) and further embarrassment for the listener. It’s best to rephrase what you have said in a different way, putting emphasis on different words, rather than increasing your tone.
Don’t tire yourselves out
There’s no doubt that communicating whilst wearing a mask requires more effort. Therefore, keep your ONE BIG message short and sweet. If you are delivering a pitch or presentation, stick to the main points and try to reduce the length of time you are speaking.
Clear and inspiring communication is central to making this next unsteady phase a success. While many of us have been working in silos over the last 12 months, it’s important to review your communication and storytelling skills (with or without a mask) so that you are fully prepared to be heard and understand as a leader who wants to make change happen.