Unless I’m engaging someone in conversation, I usually tend to stay silent on my shopping excursions. I acknowledge and greet the employees of whatever location I may frequent with a smile and a nod, sometimes even allowing the smile to reach my eyes, which can also speak volumes. So, how does it affect communication when we all wear a facial mask that covers our facial expressions? Do we NEED those facial expressions? Are they necessary for everyday communication? The simple is answer is yes. And no. Of course I won’t make it simple…
There are plenty of animals who use facial expressions as part of communication. In fact, horses, dogs and chimpanzees all have a plethora of facial expressions although they may be using them for different reasons. I’m not a veterinarian. But humans use facial expressions as part of their communication with other humans, which can be found lacking if the recipient can’t see your face. I’ve found this to be an issue during this entire pandemic, when a smile and nod still looks as though you’re deadpan even when you aren’t.
Think about a simple email you sent that was completely misinterpreted… Maybe you were in a perfectly good mood when you sent it and had no malicious intent behind it. THEN you get an aggressive response from the recipient, accusing you of being rude and aggressive with THEM. Ever happen to you? I’ve had supervisors who I’ve asked for help with something, only to have them snap back, accusing me of telling them how to do their jobs. It actually happens a lot.
Despite the words being the same, the recipient can’t see your body language, sense your tone or feel the intonations behind your communication. For example, your spouse saying “you’re such an asshole!” while smiling shyly and shaking her head at you can seem playful and can even be interpreted as a sign of affection. Having that same spouse text message “you’re such an asshole!” without any context will likely have you thinking you’re in trouble for something. This is the same deal. Facial expressions are integral to proper communication.
It’s taken me a while to recognize that when someone out in public says hello or thank you, a simple smile is no longer enough. Because they won’t see it. Oh, there may some small movements of the mask that could potentially tell an observant person that there’s something happening beneath the mask. But for the most part, I look like a creepy mute guy, squinting at the door greeter on my way out. I’ve had to make a concerted effort to remember to actually say “thank you” or “have a nice day.” First world problems, right?
To be honest, I’m not sure where I was going with this post. I admittedly just throw my thoughts out on occasion. But this is another instance where the pandemic has affected our daily lives, much without us thinking about it. Lack of visible facial expressions makes it harder to communicate in public on top of our voices being somewhat muffled by the mask. Added on top of steamy glasses and the unexpected belch that basically makes you hotbox yourself and it adds a bit of speed to your grocery shopping. ☯