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How Masks Hinder Communication

Sep 4, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with wearing a mask, especially when trying to talk with people. I didn’t realize how much I rely on facial expressions and even “reading lips” in order to understand what they are trying to say. Just like we teach our children to use context cues when reading, I believe that we do the same thing when communicating verbally.

I came across an interview with Harry Witchel published on August 18. He called his article “The power of body language.” He first talked about social smiles and that we use them to communicate with each other. When our mouth and nose are covered, if we do not use a full smile that produces creases around our eyes, then people can’t see our small smile. This can cause confusion, especially when communicating with someone from a different culture.

The interview also included the problems when trying to communicate using electronic means. Sometimes we place the camera in a place that makes it seem like we are not looking at the person on the other side. We look at the screen that shows their face, so our camera should be placed there. It’s also hard to talk when there is more than one person in the group, because we don’t have the physical cues about whose turn it is to speak. Either everyone starts talking at the same time or no one is talking.

During this continuing time of pandemic when we cannot touch each other and must wear a mask, it is so important to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It is so much more difficult to communicate under these conditions. Maybe we should think about using our eyes instead of our mouths for facial expressions. Nodding our head or using full-body expressions may help put others at ease when everyone’s stress level is elevated.

The Bible talks a lot about living at peace with others and being patient. Ephesians 4:1-3 says that we should “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.“ If we are humble and patient, then we can be more tolerant of others. We definitely need an added measure of patience during this unique time in history. I Corinthians 13:7 says that “love believes all things,” which means that we need to think the best of others, giving them the benefit of the doubt. (Roane, 2018).

Today, I pray that we will grow in grace and understanding as a community this year.

Because of His Faithfulness,
Dr. Sharon Brobst, Director