For the moment, many business offices across Canada are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all but essential service employees working from home.
But once restrictions are lifted and companies gradually invite employees back to a shared workspace, one of the biggest adjustments will be in how we communicate with one another.
Even in the workplace, humans communicate nonverbally. Nodding your head conveys agreement; crossing your arms shows defensiveness. Tilting your head down can convey doubt; sitting or standing up straight suggests you are confident, engaged and trustworthy.
But our facial expressions also play a key role in nonverbal communication — which is a challenge when we are wearing masks to protect ourselves and others from the virus.
The good news is there are other ways to help express yourself even while wearing a mask.
1. Eye Contact
By looking another person in the eye, you show you are listening to and taking interest in what that person is saying.
And, although people won’t be able to see your smile behind your mask, they will be able to tell you are smiling by the expression in your eyes. Research has shown that a genuine smile — called a Duchenne smile — raises your cheeks and causes wrinkles (known as crow’s feet) around the corners of your eyes.
2. Tone Of Voice
In a Harvard Business Review article called Practice Your “Mask Voice:” How to Build Rapport … While Wearing a Mask, writer Dustin York says, “The quality of your voice makes a big difference in how people respond emotionally to what you say, and this is true in both personal and professional interactions. Even if we say the exact same things but in different tones, people will respond differently.”
York says our voices are more important than ever when we wear masks, and he uses the acronym PAVE to help people remember four key elements: pause, accentuate, volume, and emotion.
Pause: Normally, visual cues of the mouth help us to see when a speaker is pausing for a response. Since we can’t see that now, make a conscious effort to noticeably pause here and there to give people opportunities to jump in or respond. This also breaks up your message into digestible chunks.
Accentuate: Avoid monotony by accentuating key phrases and information, but don’t always accentuate in the same way. Use different intonation.
Volume: Masks have a slight muffling effect so speak up (but don’t shout, obviously).
Emotion: In appropriate moments, try to make your voice more expressive by conveying positive emotions like excitement, awe, gratitude, and sympathy. Do this in moderation since you don’t want to come across as if you’re performing Shakespeare.
3. Use Gestures
In the same article, York also explains how gestures can convey meaning and emotion. He recommends that, while wearing a mask, you should increase the level of your gesturing by about 10%.
For example, give a cheerful wave when you meet someone, since the traditional hand shake must be avoided for the foreseeable future. Another example is showing your agreement by giving a quick thumbs up.
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