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Communicating Effectively While Wearing a Mask

Communicating Effectively While Wearing a Mask

I recently read an interesting article published by the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Managing Yourself: How to Build Rapport … While Wearing A Mask’ by Dustin York. There were some good pointers, as I was struggling with wearing a mask, particularly with voice control and listening while conversing with people. 

For the safety of one’s self and being responsible for the safety of others, everyone should wear a mask. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, this is being firmly rejected in the name of freedom and personal rights. But that’s for individuals, communities and governments to decide. I shall not venture into that debate. My thoughts in this article explore the challenges of wearing masks and how to tackle them. 

The biggest challenge for me with wearing a mask has been  understanding the other person and speaking with clarity.  It surely helps to speak clearly, with regular pausing, and to not be embarrassed to request that the other person repeat themselves, speak at a slightly louder volume or speak more slowly.  

Being human, our body language and facial expressions speak a thousand words. My first introduction to micro-expressions was through an American crime drama television series called ’Lie to Me’. There was another TV series: ‘Criminal Minds’, focusing on the Behavioural Analysis Unit for the FBI. I am sure our local law enforcement officers are trained in this area. It is a fascinating subject in the realm of science and psychology: reading facial expressions and behaviour.

I believe the mask has made it more difficult to read facial expressions. The best we can do is try to be more conscious of ourselves and others. The key is to pay attention to our responses and the other person’s.  

I do agree that smiling with the eyes is so profound, yet not widely done.  Fake or lazy smiles are noticeable, even with a mask on. Let us try to nod more often to show engagement. Paraphrasing and reflective listening also help.

During video conferencing, we usually turn off the video mode. However, if the rule is to turn it on, then I would add that we ensure that we look at the camera located on our computers. That will give a full and clear view of our eyes (the gateway to our souls), and to what we’re thinking. 

As to greetings, instead of shaking hands, and besides waving ’hello’, we can use a myriad of other practices adopted around the world such as ‘Namaste’ (a manner of greeting in India), touching our hearts (a common gentlemanly gesture and common in Islamic countries – based on my personal experience) or bowing (typical of  Eastern greetings). Here, in Malaysia, all the above are used. Unfortunately, fist bumps are discouraged. Not sure about foot bumps‼  

We tend to be annoyed with the humidity (depending on where we live and the time of year), and itchiness (leading to allergies) that come with wearing a mask. However, safety and responsibility come first. A bit of inconvenience and discomfort is bearable, considering we are facing one of humanity’s biggest historical challenges. 

Anyhow, for our benefit and that of our family, friends, community and nation, it is essential to follow the standards set by the relevant authorities. The concept of “Other-self” is more important than “Myself”. Wearing a mask should not and must not damper our spirits. The mask is going to be a regular feature in our future daily lives.  

So, let’s take it up as a challenge to increase our awareness and mindfulness at all times, with or without a mask-on. We might come out of the practice with a higher level of perception and empathy.


Kadam Balan is a thought leader who believes in agility and evolving with the times. He consistently works to contribute to the industry and community at large as a mindful global citizen. 

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