You Asked! is the column where the Center for Healthy Relationships (CHR) answers. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or text 479-308-8508.
Q: How do I connect with people when we have to wear masks and stand back?
What a timely question and a good question too. Aside from fogging up your glasses and causing puberty-level acne, the masks we wear also inhibit our ability to read one another’s facial expressions. A significant portion of how we communicate involves our facial expressions and tone of voice, and our social distancing measures only serve to mask (sorry, practicing my dad jokes) our non-verbal communication. However, all hope is not lost.
Creating and maintaining connection in this time starts with you. Like Peter seeing Jesus on the shore, you can throw on your mask and still wildly express yourself through your tone and body language. Masks are an obstacle, but remember that obstacles can be overcome. If you are trying to communicate that you are super pumped for that 10-page philosophy paper with Dr. Bruce, raise your excitement to a 9 or 10, like Dr. Bruce’s normal voice. Since up to 38% of communication is through tone of voice, which masks might muffle, use this as a great opportunity to improve your projection, like an actor on stage.
If you’re trying to show that you are really listening to your friend’s worries, then use your eyes (because those shouldn’t be covered by your mask—No, seriously, you’re wearing it wrong!) to express care and concern. Also, wearing masks might be new but wearing clothes isn’t. Using the rest of your body language by physically leaning in towards your friend—but not closer than a Chip-width—or doing jazz hands to show excitement. Nonverbal communication accounts for a significant portion of how we interpret what is said. While a lot of your facial expression may be covered, your eyes are not, and the rest of your body can still help you communicate and connect.
My final piece of advice is to be inspired by how others have and are handling life right now. People all over the world took to playing tennis between windows, putting up daily joke boards and having dance battles across the street to stay connected. If you have not seen John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” or other reports of people creatively overcoming obstacles, then ask someone to share their favorite positive story from the past eight months. You will learn something new and be connecting with someone too.
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