Covid19 & Psychology

Wearing Masks: How Has it Changed The Way We Relate to Others?

Coronavirus And Psychology

In this article, Sanam Naran speaks on a global touch point, coronavirus and how it has affected the way we relate with one another as masks become mandatory.


Coronavirus – What Has Changed In The Way We Relate To Other Since Wearing Masks

What do we miss, or risk missing, in our interactions with other people when everyone’s wearing masks?

I believe facial expressions are an important mode of communication and play a pivotal role within interaction. We tend to miss meta communication via facial expressions due to wearing masks. For example, we are unable to see when someone is smiling or communicating something more serious, thus, we are unable to see people’s authentic selves.

What key facial expressions are no longer ones we can rely on? Are there other ways those emotions can show up?

People would now need to use their tone of voice and body language to express emotions that would usually be picked up through facial expressions, specifically in the mouth area. But is there a way to to read the eyes since they are usually the only visible part of the face? I believe most facial expressions are portrayed around the eye area, therefore, we are still able to rely on facial expressions with masks on, to some extent. I would not say that there is a way to read eyes, however, I do believe we are able to pick up quite a bit of meta communication through the eyes. The way people authentically feel, may be communicated through the eyes.

What sorts of other body language signs can be important to pay attention to?

Body language as a whole, is important in communication. The way a person in standing or sitting is often quite telling. For example, if an individual is sitting with their arms or legs crossed, this can communicate a resistance to being open to what is being said in the conversation. Or if individual A is sitting in an opposing direction to individual B, yet they are in conversation, this can communicate that individual A is uninterested or uncomfortable. If a person utilizes their hands excessively through conversation, they may be experiencing feelings of anxiety.

What about conveying your own emotions to others—is it important to learn to do that in other ways? Verbally? Say more, when in doubt?

It is imperative to convey the way we truly feel to people, verbally. Mental health issues such as: Depression, anxiety and substance use disorder, amongst others, may stem from many factors, although, one of them may be an inability to express our feelings and emotions, thus, bottling them up within ourselves. This can be detrimental. However, many individuals struggle with this.

Can you share a personal experience you’ve had with either a misunderstanding with a friend or stranger due to masks, or a need to clarify, and how you remedied the situation?

One of my clients had an argument with a work colleague, recently. Her colleague smiled at her as a greeting and she understandably, did not reciprocate as she was unable to see this through the mask. They have had prior conflict which would explain the sensitivity to not being greeted back. They did not remedy the situation, until I suggested that she has a conversation about this and clarify this with her. Conversation is going to be an important method of reparation, during these times.

Anything else you’ve noticed about how our relating with one another has changed or needs to change now that we’re all masked?

As I have mentioned above, we need to rely on conversation a lot more which would prove beneficial in the long-run as many people struggle with conflict resolution and expressing their feelings through conversation. In addition to this, we need to be more aware of our body language and what this communicates to others.


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