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Communicate better while wearing a mask

5 tips for you and your employees.

The millennial employee population is expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 and communication with this group is important, especially right now. With this generation being plagued by multiple health conditions, health care costs are expected to rise and productivity to decrease — all impacting your bottom line. Download our free e-book Opens in a new window to get ahead of it.

As we get further into the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have gotten used to wearing face masks in public to help limit the spread of the disease. If you’ve been considering bringing your employees back into the office (or, in some cases, if your employees were never sent to work from home), it’s important to remember that masks have effectively limited some of the ways we communicate.

Masks can hide crucial facial expressions, prevent lip reading, and muffle our voices External Site, making communication and reading others’ emotions more difficult — especially in the workplace. Add physical distancing into the mix, and your employees have now some significant communication barriers to overcome. After all, we’ve always relied on facial expression as a means of effective social and workplace communication.

Since masks may end up being the new normal for a while, or even make annual comebacks during cold and flu season External Site, here are some tips External Site you can share with your employees on how to navigate this new normal in the office.

1. Be aware of body language while wearing a mask

When you’re engaged in conversation, you might not realize how much additional information, particularly emotions, you can convey through your own body language. Especially in the workplace, how someone looks when standing or sitting and whether their arms are crossed or at their sides can influence how the person on the receiving end perceives the conversation. If you have any employees who could stand to improve their nonverbal communication skills and body language, help them out with these tips:

  • Sit up straight with your head lifted and shoulders relaxed
  • Show you are engaged in the conversation by facing your full body toward the other person, making sure nothing is blocking your view
  • Nod occasionally to show you’re following along or agreeing with what has been said
  • Use gestures to help convey emotion and meaning when your facial expressions can’t
  • Avoid crossing your arms in front of your body and keep your hands off your hips and out of your pockets

2. Watch your tone

Ever heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” In a world where people can’t read your facial expressions, tone of voice External Site has an even bigger impact than before — especially in professional settings. Though masks can muffle your employees' speech, they don’t significantly alter their voice. While speaking to colleagues through a mask, remind your employees to:

  • Pause.

    Because others can’t visually see when you might be approaching a natural break in conversation, remember to pause occasionally to give them a chance to jump in and respond. This also helps break up your conversation into easier-to-understand chunks and reduces the use of clutter words like “uh” and “like” that don’t add value.
  • Accentuate.

    Use the pitch of your voice and inflection to prioritize the important parts of your message, instead of speaking in a flat, monotonous tone.
  • Avoid shouting.

    You will have to compensate a little for how masks muffle sound but raising your voice too much can impact the message you’re trying to get across. Instead of drastically increasing your volume, enunciate your words so they can be heard more clearly.
  • Slow down.

    You don’t need to talk at a snail’s pace but speaking a little slower than normal and spacing out your words slightly can help increase understanding.

3. Prioritize eye contact while wearing a mask

Eye contact was already a crucial part of effective communication before the pandemic. Now that our eyes are the only parts of our face not covered by a mask, eye contact becomes even more important. Looking directly at the person to whom you’re speaking or listening to can convey that you’re paying attention and understanding the conversation.

4. Smile like you mean it

Just because your colleagues can’t see your actual smile doesn’t mean they don’t know you’re smiling. A genuine grin causes slight wrinkling at the outer edges of your eyes as your cheeks move upwards. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, practice smiling with your eyes in front of a mirror and see what happens. Plus, smiling regularly can help boost your mood.

5. Practice active listening

When someone else is speaking to you, let them know you can both hear and understand them by practicing active listening. This can include nodding at various points in the conversation or using sounds of understanding like “mm-hmm” to show you are engaged and interested in what they have to say. Use phrases and questions like “I’m listening,” “What I hear you saying is...,” “So do you mean...” can help promote better understanding and clarify the intent of the conversation.

Other quick communication tips when wearing a mask

In addition to the tips above, remember to:

  • Be aware of environmental noise that may make it hard to understand what you’re saying, and move to a quieter location if possible
  • Make sure you have your colleagues’ attention when you start speaking
  • Use simpler language to make yourself easier to understand
  • Ask follow-up questions or ask someone to repeat what they’re saying if you haven’t understood
  • Follow up with written communication to ensure understanding whenever possible

Bringing your employees back into the office or helping them navigate their day-to-day during a pandemic can raise a lot of questions. Want help, advice or support? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at Send Email.