As the pandemic invites us to adjust, reinvent and reflect many of our typical behaviors, one of the most obvious changes to note is the prevalence of wearing face masks. Today, more than 50 countries mandate wearing masks in public. Not only do they restrict our breath and muffle our voice, but they tend to flatline our expressiveness.
One of the biggest fallouts to come out of Corona is the loss of the shared smile. So how do we compensate for its critical absence in our everyday interactions?
First, a brief history of facial expressiveness
Since the early stages of our evolution, humans have been primed to respond to the facial expressions of others. Charles Darwin was one of the first to suggest that a variety of facial expressions could confer an evolutionary advantage. A recent BBC article observed that Darwin wrote in his 1892 book “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” “Learning how to read emotions from a face could aid social interaction, reduce misunderstandings and help a group function efficiently and harmoniously for the greater good.”
When it comes to reading the face, the eyes and mouth have it—they encode the most information about our emotions. The mouth region, in particular, is good for expressing feelings of happiness, approachability and friendliness. So how do you augment your ability to communicate when half of your medium is under wraps?
In a word—overcommunicate. Just because you’re wearing a mask or that you have your face covered should not prevent others from understanding what you’re trying to express non-verbally. Use more words than you normally would, ask more questions, and learn how to make use of posture, gesture, tone and other facial expressions more effectively.
How to express yourself with a mask on
Here are some practical tips for enhancing your ability to express yourself.
Narrate your emotions
If you’re feeling sad, upset or happy, explore naming those sentiments in real time. To flesh out your communications, the onus is on you to describe how you feel. If you are smiling or upset, say it.
Americans tend to not huge gesture as much as other cultures, namely Italian, but this is as good a time as any to beef up your repertoire of gesticulations. Shrugs, waves, thumbs up, an open palm upward to symbolize receptivity, clasped hands on your chest to convey happiness, are all well worth peppering your exchanges.
Inflection is defined as change in the pitch or tone of the voice. Varying your tone throughout your interactions, such as raising your voice slightly to indicate a question, lowering it to end a sentence or convey authority, and speaking louder or softer to indicate excitement or express sadness, are all tools for amping up your ability to engage with others more fully.
Use your eyebrows to exaggerate
Deaf culture, which uses exquisitely expressive sign language as the foundation for communication, has long recognized that the face is primary to convey meaning and nuance.
Perfunctory in sign language, eyebrows are often used to communicate punctuation and context. Raised eyebrows function as a question mark for a yes or no question, whereas furrowed eyebrows signify a who what why type of inquiry.
In addition, in common parlance, if you are angry your eyebrows form a “V” and when you’re happy, they bend upward toward the top of your head like an upside down “U.” Even if your mouth may be hidden by a face mask, you can teach your eyebrows to become responsive to your emotions as well as use this information in reading other people’s feelings.
Work your “smize”
Smizing is smiling with your eye, a technique perfected by Tyra Banks, an American television personality, model, producer, businesswoman, actress, singer and author, famous for teaching people how to evoke emotion and intensity in their eyes by smizing for photos. With Covid, the idea has had a huge uptick in relevance.
In an interview with US magazine, Banks says, “I encourage people to really use all the muscles in their face to demonstrate the beautiful emotions that they want to evoke to people. Or else it’ll be very difficult to read with so much of the face being covered by a mask.”
She goes on to explain that the “right smize” comes from thinking of “something that delights you.” That inner delight brings all the energy into your eyes, producing a sympathetic crinkle.