Communicating despite surgical and protective masks in the time of Covid-19

Look me in the eyes

Unlike in other countries, there is no general requirement to wear a mask in Switzerland. However, the Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG) recommends that we wear masks in situations when we are in contact with other people for longer than 15 minutes and closer to them than two metres. If you travel on public transport – train, tram or bus – it is often not possible to stay two metres away from the other passengers. That is why, for several weeks now, an announcement has been made on public transport stating that you should wear a mask to protect other passengers if you cannot keep your distance from each other.

Do you wear a surgical or protective mask now and then? How do you feel about it?

Have you ever smiled at someone, only to be surprised because they didn’t react? Then a little later, you irritatedly realise that they didn’t react because they couldn’t see your smile behind your mask, and it wasn’t about you at all?

Are masks changing how we communicate? If so, how?

A surgical or protective mask covers half of our faces. We can therefore no longer so easily recognise or interpret other people’s changing facial expressions (what psychologists call mimicry). The missing information from mouth and nose movements, such as smiling or nose-wrinkling, means that we need to concentrate much harder than usual to interpret the other person’s emotional state. If someone is angry, sad, happy or surprised, for example, we can recognise this relatively quickly from their mimicry. But when a facial expression is confined to the eyes by a mask, we find it more difficult to read emotions and moods, which means that misunderstandings may occur more often.
Both the mask-wearer and the other person in the conversation must be careful during the conversation and learn how to communicate emotions with their mouths and noses covered, and how to recognise and interpret other peoples’ emotions from the expression in their eyes and their eyebrow movements.

Communication is not always simple, with or without a mask. Under our “Communication” heading, you will find many useful conversation tips for communicating confidently and successfully. Additionally, we have put together some tips and tricks specially for conversations when wearing surgical and protective masks.

Communication when wearing surgical masks – tips and tricks:

  • Get to know yourself wearing a mask. Put on a mask and stand in front of a mirror at home. Now try various facial expressions and watch yourself in the mirror as you do. What do you see? Do you know whether you are happy, surprised or sad from your image in the mirror? This experience will show you what other people see when you wear a mask while communicating with them.
  • Play with your facial expressions in front of the mirror. Is it potentially useful to squint a bit more than usual with your mask, so that the other person is more likely to realise that you are smiling?
  • When talking to someone wearing a mask, make sure that you consciously pay attention to the eyes and eyebrow movements. They also transmit a great deal of information.
  • But don’t rely too much on your facial expressions, or other people’s. If you aren’t sure, it’s better to ask. As this sort of communication is uncharted territory for most of us, you can say openly when you start your conversation that you still aren’t used to talking with your mouth covered and don’t always find it easy.
You can find fascinating videos on the subject here:

This might also interest you:

15. Mai 2023

Say cheese!

31. August 2022


22. August 2022

Solitude vs. loneliness