Does wearing masks affect our communication?

This year has unfortunately brought its fair share of challenges for us all. Hopefully it has also presented you with opportunities for healing, reflection, and growth. While we adjust to changes in our social routines and embrace virtual connections, consider this: How does donning a mask or social distancing impact our in-person conversations?

Wearing masks and/or standing six feet apart presents new communication challenges, particularly for people who have difficulty speaking or hearing. Masks unfortunately muffle sound, which makes it harder for a listener to hear and understand speech. They also prevent us from reading lips and watching facial expressions (which we use when listening to someone speak). Maintaining social distancing, even without a mask, can make it difficult to interpret subtle gestures, and a person’s vocal volume may sound quieter the further away they stand. All of this is exacerbated when you add in competing noise, visual distractions, and movement in the background.

Communication breakdowns may be more frequent and more frustrating! Luckily, there are strategies we can use to communicate more effectively in this new normal. And, because communication involves both a speaker and a listener, both parties may benefit from using these strategies!

10 tips for improving conversations while wearing a mask:

  1. Face the person with whom you are speaking.
  2. Minimize distractions. If possible, find a quiet place to talk.
  3. Use the person’s name before you start talking to gain their attention.
  4. Take a deep breath before you start speaking to help increase the volume of your voice.
  5. Check to see if your vocal volume is adequate for your listener to hear and understand. Ask them to give you a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” signal to confirm.
  6. Take a break if you feel your voice becoming strained from speaking louder. Inform your conversation partner that you need a break.
  7. Speak in sentences to give the listener more information rather than only saying a single word. Use gestures to add even more context.
  8. Check for understanding. Ask you partner directly if they understood. Again, you could use the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” gesture for confirmation.
  9. If your conversation partner asks you to repeat, ask them for more information. What do they need repeated? For example: Do they need you to repeat the message slower, louder, or just the last word?
  10. Prevent communication breakdowns before they even happen. Try to predict social interactions and potential challenges before they occur.

Leave a Reply