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  • Inna Post, Ph.D.

Can You See Me Smile?


As more and more people are going back to work while wearing masks all the time, the dynamics of our offices are sure to change. Some of us had trouble reading facial expressions even prior to our faces being covered, so it’s safe to assume it will be more stressful to try to decipher people’s emotions in the workplace using PPE. 


How are we to read people when we only have 30% of the information? Social distancing at work doesn’t have to be a social disaster! Use these tips to guide your day-to-day interactions while wearing a mask:


  • When you’re face to face with a masked person in the office, pay more attention to their body language. Are their arms open? Closed? Outstretched arms indicate openness, but people often close their arms if they’re feeling vulnerable or anxious. If they lean in towards you it’s a sign that they are enthusiastic about your conversation, while a step back may mean that they’d prefer to keep their distance.


  • Since we cannot count on non-verbal communication, we need to put more emphasis on our verbal communication. It used to be the case that smiling when passing someone in the hallway was enough to say “hello.” Now we should try to stop and acknowledge that person and to ask how they’re doing more often than we used to. A single genuine question may put a smile on their face (even if we may not see it). 


  • Now is the time to wear brighter clothing. With colder weather coming, it’s tempting to wear our usual uniform of blacks and greys. However, adding a pop of color to your outfit may help you be perceived as a more positive person and one that likes to stand out from the crowd. Let your bright scarf stand-in for your bright smile (but remember to keep smiling under your mask!).


We are all wearing masks right now, and we’ll need to continue wearing them until we can ensure we can keep our communities safe without them. The good news is that we are resilient. We don’t have to let this crisis pull us down, in fact, we can’t. Instead, let’s look at it as an opportunity to build new communication skills and focus on coming out of this crisis stronger. And let’s make sure that in the future when we’re all maskless, we appreciate each other’s smiles even more. 

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