What my young son has taught me about connecting through a mask

Like others, during lockdown I had a craving for being out and around people, and really missed simple everyday interactions like exchanging pleasantries and moaning about the good old British weather – particularly in lieu of an overseas escape this year.

Whilst I am now able to enjoy visiting the shops, grabbing a take-away coffee and visiting our local library again, I am getting the people connection I craved but it is now accompanied with face masks.  I feel communications are shorter and stripped back to a purely transactional exchange, which I suppose isn’t a surprise as after all it’s harder to understand what somebody is saying when they are wearing a mask and most of their facial expressions are hidden behind fabric.

While most of us are finding this a frustrating new challenge, now we are required to wear face masks, it is actually something my little boy has been learning to deal with from birth. He has moebius syndrome, which means he has facial paralysis that results in him having no facial expressions and severely impacts his speech clarity. He amazes me every day. 

He is a great communicator and makes friends everywhere he goes, and so I’ve come to realise that there is room to improve my own communication skills if I adopt the techniques he has been learning. Simple things like making eye contact; speaking up, slowing down and fully articulating your words; using greater vocal tone and pitch; and fully utilising hand gestures and body language will all help build rapport when wearing a mask.

The flip side is that in order to be good communicators we also need to become better listeners, not just to the words that are being spoken to us but having a greater awareness of non-verbal cues.  I am pretty sure that all our interactions would benefit if we had a little more patience, listened fully and became more attentive.

As face masks become the new norm, do we need to adapt how we converse? It would be a shame if our interactions became robotic and reduced to bare minimum exchanges. So much will be lost. After all we are social creatures and it is important for our wellbeing that we are able to connect and engage with those around us.

I hope in this new norm we can all take the opportunity to put more effort into how we communicate verbally and non-verbally.

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