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Ljubljana
ponedeljek, 19 aprila, 2021

Body language and protective masks

By: Edvard Kadič

After a long period of meetings, lectures, and business gatherings only with the help of the internet, I finally attended a live meeting again. I was looking forward to the meeting, but I thought several times how it would look like now, it will probably be a bit strange. That is exactly how it was. Strange. It was weird at first, as we did not shake hands at all. With some we touched with our elbows, but not with others, we all wanted to turn the situation into a joke, and then we sat down. Of course quite apart from each other. Behind the masks, we smiled and made the same grimaces on our faces as we would if we did not have masks. But did we really make them? Did everyone? Did the women present use as much make up on their faces as they would have in a time without masks?

Corona time has somehow cut into our perception of mutual communication. We see our friends, acquaintances, and business partners less than we would have. However, when we do, we practically have no physical contact or we even intentionally maintain an appropriate distance from each other. The expression of mutual closeness, as we knew it before the outbreak of the pandemic, has become history, and we now have half of our face covered with a mask. The use of various fashion masks with patterns, sayings, or logos really lets us know that we are aware of the seriousness of the situation, however, it is still difficult to say that with a mask across half a face, others also understand us when we explain something to them.

Facial expressions are an important part of the whole body language. Perhaps even the most important, as the face is the most powerful part of the body in terms of communication, and these messages accompany the content and give it a broader meaning. Because of the mask, the so-called metacommunication is being lost, those messages between the lines that sometimes say much more than the content itself. The central role is suddenly taken over by the voice and the whole body with its expressive abilities. In all honesty, sometimes it is a bit comical to watch someone say what they have without a mask, but now with a mask they try to explain the broader aspect of their words with their body, like a dancer.

It is good that at least our eyes, which are proverbially considered to be the windows of the soul, remain visible. Namely, our eyes laugh, are afraid, suspicious, worried, and so on. Even though we have half our face covered, most of the information about our well-being or intentions still comes right through the observation of the eyes and the area in their immediate vicinity. Not even botox can completely cover wrinkles or eyebrow compression when e.g. something angers us, or their raising in moments when we are scared or surprised.

Unfortunately, the masks virtually eliminated a very important source of information overnight, i.e. monitoring mouth and lip movement. I myself have quite a few problems with this, as I hear a little worse in one ear and over the years I have developed detailed monitoring and interpretation of lip movement simply so that I can supplement the message I am constantly losing due to hearing loss. And this is not done only by those who have slightly worse hearing.

Conversations with a face mask now require significantly more attention and energy than conversations without it. Observing a person helps us to understand better, even if we do not have hearing problems, because we observe the well-being, the context of the message, hidden meanings, etc. also in the movement of the lips. If I add to this an even worse audibility due to the mouth covered with a piece of fabric, the occasional difficulty in understanding the message is not only common, but almost normal. At the same time, we will also often notice that people become much more tired during conversations, as they gasp for air, and the movement of the mask in front of the mouth at times acts as if the interlocutor is going to suffocate. So we live in a time when, because of these limitations, it is even more important to address people as sincerely as possible. Namely, they do not have the possibility to understand the whole message from their faces. Open and honest conversation thus became an even more important part of our relationships and consequently an even more important tool for resolving and releasing negative feelings that arise in one way or another between us. Nevertheless, it is really nice to observe the increase of eye contact between people, however, it is still considered that the best way to understand the feelings of our interlocutor is to simply ask them about their feelings.

Edvard Kadič is an expert in communication and personal development, a lecturer, trainer and consultant in the field of personal charisma.

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