My friend Rebecca and I were talking a short while ago, discussing, as we all do, the effects of the pandemic. We got into the subject of masks and how they affect our interactions.
Not only do glasses steam up when we wear them, and our verbal communication become less clear, but they also significantly affect our non-verbal communication. We all express our emotions most strongly through our body language and our facial expressions – but half our faces are now covered a lot of the time in our interactions.
So we don’t see each other smile or grimace in that unconscious way we used to, giving us feedback about others’ reactions. It requires us to be conscious, if we want to come past that barrier to making friendly contact with others.
If I really want to smile at someone, I have to make sure that I take that smile beyond my mouth and put it into my eyes and into the tone of my voice. And I need to look at others directly, and notice their voice tone, what their eyes are saying.
We have learnt almost to do the opposite: we look away from people so we don’t breathe the same air, and we are already feeling isolated from others because of the mask, so often we will retreat into our own world.
Yet we also all miss that human contact – with loved ones of course, but also all the peripheral relationships we have, with people in shops, on the street, in transport.
So let’s make a real effort to show our friendly smiles and provoke others into smiling too. Light your eyes up, soften your voice tone, smile at people despite the masks.