It’s kind of obvious that face masks complicate in-person communication. The volume of the voice that the listener hears, when we are standing 6 ft apart, will be a few dB less as compared to normal distance in conversation. A few decibels can make a big difference in understanding, especially for hearing impaired people. In general, noise, distance, and reverberation make speech more difficult to understand.
Most everyone connects with extra visual cues to help fill in gaps for understanding. In the English language, roughly 30% of sounds can be identified by lip reading. The intonation of voice, facial expressions, jaw movement, and body language assist to deliver the full content of the message. With the visual cues of language hidden behind a mask, more listening effort is required.
People with untreated hearing loss will be squarely confronted with the need to resolve their hearing problems. Since hearing loss is invisible, people try to cover the disability by exerting greater listening effort. The absence of speechreading cues makes untreated hearing loss undeniable.
Points to remember for better communication while wearing face masks:
- Smiley eyes still put people at ease.
- Point to the thing you are asking for: For ex: the deli clerk will be able to tell you pointed to the ham and not the spam, because you gestured toward the Boar’s Head side of the deli case.
- When asked, repeat without expressing irritation in your tone.
- Upon a second request for repetition, say it a different way. For ex: “What time is the meeting tomorrow?” or “When shall we begin Tuesday’s meeting?”
- Hold up fingers to convey number or time. “I want 2 pounds of Godiva truffles.”
- Remember to eat a breath mint for yourself. Whoa… who knew what your breath was like after morning coffee?
- Turn off noise sources, or move farther away from the noise while talking.
- Give people clues that you are changing the subject. It’s easier to fill in gaps of understanding when the context is known.
- Be patient with yourself and others, because greater listening effort translates to greater mental and physical fatigue.
- Remember to avoid touching your face. Carry a tissue, in case your nose starts to run.
- Do something you enjoy that lifts your spirit and gives your body/mind a rest. This frees up brain processing ability to work to your advantage.