Face Masks Affect Communication and Interaction

I have a problem with face masks.

I know that they are necessary protection but there should be an alternative to them in the workplace. Because my work is being affected and I cannot properly understand the emotions and intent of the other person. It becomes very hard to interact with people.

Face masks are becoming a new norm all over the world. The offices are beginning to reopen. And likewise, face masks are mandatory in almost every workplace. Apart from the common complaint of “having trouble breathing”, there is also another familiar grievance: it affects communication. Some people find it hard adjusting to face masks, especially when the situations involve lip reading and interpreting facial expressions.

A smile is a gateway to connecting with others.

That is why psychologists advise people to smile when they want to make friends at a new place. It makes you seem friendly and approachable, which might be a problem for people such as frontline healthcare workers. This becomes a reason why many people are adopting custom-made masks – with a likable catchphrase or a smiley-face – in an effort to reduce patient’s anxiety.

Although the facial expressions are integral in communication, they don’t present the complete picture. Engineer and professor Alexis Martinez at Ohio State University discovered this phenomenon while developing an Algorithm to read facial expressions. He claims that there are 19 different types of smiles, out of which only 6 are directly associated with happiness. Other types are connected to situations such as smiling when embarrassed, when in pain, or sadness.

The key to correctly interpreting facial expressions is to study the body postures, motion, and context. For example, a zoom in on a person’s face showed that he had his brows furrowed and mouth opened wide as if to scream. Apparently, one might consider him about to kill someone! However, upon zooming out it was evident that he was an enthusiastic football fan who was celebrating a scored goal way too energetically.

Granted that this might be an extreme scenario, but also under normal conditions, facial expressions are not a standalone gesture. They are a package deal consisting of hand signs, body language, words, and volume for an accurate portrayal of the message and meaning.

Tips how to cope with face masks

As long as there is access to other gestures, you would be good without the expression of mouth. So, here are a few tips for you to cope with the use of face masks in the workplace.

·         Shakespeare said the eyes are the windows to the soul. So, try focusing on the eyes and the use of eyebrows to interpret and/or convey the emotions.


·         Focus on the tone of the voice – the highs and the lows; the pitch of the volume.


·         Over-communicate and use more words than you usually would.


·         Ask extra questions to pick up the correct significance of interaction.


·         You can normalize the use of transparent face masks for relationship building in the workplace.


Remember, the masks work best when everyone is wearing them. Some people might take off the masks when talking but that is exactly the time when they shouldn’t be off. However, one might adopt other SOPs such as strict social distancing and proper ventilation to reduce the usage of face masks. Reduced not abandoned! This is only because to accommodate the population that relies on lip-reading and gestures (5% world population is deaf).


The face masks have become quite common and they won’t be leaving soon.

By making its usage compulsory, companies hope to boost the comfort levels of employees willing to come to the workplace. Seeing others wearing masks motivates one own self to participate in the battle against the pandemic. As the masks are effective more when everyone wearing them, so the chances of spread reduce exponentially. This is incredibly effective because most people don’t show the signs of COVID-19. Therefore, the masks should be worn as much as possible. And to communicate effectively other methods must be adopted. Besides, they are a good skillset to have anyways.


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