Communicating in a Masked World

I was at an outside social event this weekend, in a spot near a street with a lot of background noise. Everyone was behaving well and had their masks on. And as I was there, I realized that it was my first time wearing a mask for an extended period of time, where I was expected to carry on some conversation.

Don’t worry… I wear my mask all the time. But as I was standing there and having some attempted conversation with people, I realized that this sort of an event was a first for me in our new masked world. My family and I have not been putting ourselves into situations where we need to wear masks AND socialize at the same time. When we go to stores, we wear our masks, but are obviously not there to socialize. We get in and get out. And when we have been socializing, it has been outside, in very small groups, with people inside our social pod.

In other words, when we have been in “mask mode” we rarely have been trying to communicate with anyone in any meaningful way.

So yesterday was a first for me. And as I was there, I realized that I could not hear anything anyone said. Not… one… word.

A little more context… I am hard of hearing to begin with. Even under normal circumstances, background noise is tough for me. Loud bars and restaurants are really hard for me to hear anything. Concerts are literally painful. So a few years ago I did some modest training as a lip reader. Now when I am trying to converse with people in a loud place, I am doing a ton of lip reading. (Aside… lots of people tell me how engaged I am as a conversationalist in social settings. Two reasons for that… first, I do think it is important and respectful. But second, most of the time I am listening intently because I am compensating for terrible hearing through some lip reading.)

So yesterday, I was trying to socialize for the first time in a while… there was a lot of background noise… and I couldn’t read anyone’s lips. Add in the social distancing expectation, and it wasn’t like I could get closer to someone so I could hear them. I was screwed and couldn’t hear anything anyone said. Not one word. I nodded my way through a bunch of conversations. (Who knows what I was nodding to. I may have just volunteered for a bunch of committees without even realizing it… or worse.)

My point today is that there are some major ramifications to communicating in a masked world. And the ability to hear each other is a BIG one. Keep that in mind as you communicate with others. Lots of people are hard of hearing, and lots of people do a lot of lip reading to compensate. Probably a lot more than you realize.

We are only at the beginning of recognizing the implications of wearing masks all the time. And not being able to hear each other well, and not being able to compensate through lip reading, is a major game changer. So, the advice here is to raise your level of awareness on this issue, especially when speaking with people who you think MIGHT be hard of hearing. Because communication through a mask is a lot harder.

I will continue to wear my mask, because it is so important for so many reasons. But I am more aware now of how much of a communication impact it really has.

Have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.