How everyday masks affect our communication.

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Luna Mittig works with her voice. Wearing a mask is therefore a special challenge for her. 2One is acoustically less understood, especially if one does not speak extremely clearly or loudly. Mittig is a qualified voice and speech trainer and gives guided tours in the Museum for Communication in Nuremberg – which she finds much more strenuous with a mask. For herself, but also for the listeners.

Luna Mittig is a qualified voice and speech trainer and gives guided tours in the Museum of Communication in Nuremberg. The communication expert knows that this is much more strenuous when wearing a mask – simply talking louder does not help much. A few words more than usual is more likely.

With a piece of cloth in front of the mouth, communication is much more difficult. In addition, some of the facial expressions and facial gestures are no longer necessary. That is information, which is missing to the interlocutor. Experts give tips on how to communicate better despite the mask.

Short sentences with clear emphasis
Difficulty of communication due to mouth-nose protection masks

“It’s like a foreign language,” explains Mittig. “Because the voice is muffled and facial expressions are missing, some of the information that we perceive unconsciously falls away. That’s why she has trained her colleagues in the museum in how they can be better understood despite the mask – and greater distance. Because simply talking louder often doesn’t work – you can see this every day at the cheese counter or at the bakery. “You have to discipline yourself to speak more slowly, use shorter sentences and place more emphasis on the accents,” explains Mittig. And more gestures: “What you can’t see on your face because of the mask, you have to do with your hands and feet.

Birgit Dittmer-Glaubig would also find speech training helpful. The deputy principal of the secondary school in Simmernstraße in Munich has had to constantly ask questions in class since the mask was made compulsory. “It is a real challenge acoustically, because it is very, very difficult to understand the students. In addition, she says it is much more difficult to tell from the facial expressions whether the children and young people can follow the material or whether they still have questions.

Communication made difficult by mask

“We don’t have to look sad because we can say we are sad.” Children, on the other hand, would need this second signal system more strongly, even if the mask does not completely cover the facial expressions, but only reduces them. Another problem: “You don’t recognize a person simply by their eyes or mouth, but by the configuration, i.e. the distances, the spatial assignment of the individual parts of a face,” explains Lautenbacher’s colleague Claus-Christian Carbon. “We take a face in a fundamentally holistic way, i.e. holistically. However, the learning process only starts at an age of about ten or twelve years.

“The face is much more eloquent than the rest of the body,” explains mimic researcher Stefan Lautenbacher from the University of Bamberg the main problem. “Roughly speaking, facial expressions consist of two areas: The field around the mouth, which signals a lot, and the field around the eyes, which extends into the forehead: We can raise the eyebrows, frown, set the eyes narrow or open them. In adults, the facial expression is not quite so important because much can be deduced from the context and adults can also express themselves very well in language.

“But if a part is now simply cut away by the mask, this holistic processing does not work properly because we are missing crucial information,” Carbon explains. Other people would be more difficult to recognize. And there’s another problem: “There are some emotions that are characteristic of the mouth and eyes: Disgust, sadness and anger are expressed strongly with the mouth, while joy is expressed through the eyes. If half of the face is now covered by a mask, it is easy for something to go wrong between people, Carbon reports.

Especially in areas where interpersonal relationships, trust and closeness are important, the mask can act as a barrier – especially when people get to know each other anew. “It is more difficult to build a relationship,” says communications trainer Lisa Kuchenmeister. But this is precisely what is important in hospice work. “There is a lot to do with facial expressions,” reports hospice attendant Petra Götz. Together with other volunteers from the Main-Spessart Hospice Association in Karlstadt, Lower Franconia, she learned in a workshop with Kuchenmeister how to put more feeling into her voice and gestures. “Afterwards you had the feeling that it was possible,” reports Götz. Now she no longer sees the mask as an obstacle. (vb/source: dpa)

“Quite a lot of characteristic emotions are not recognized and are interpreted as rather neutral, or falsely recognized as another emotion. For example, disgust is often misunderstood as anger. The problem can be easily solved with one or two additional words. “We people north of the Alps tend to talk a little too little,” Carbon believes. “But it doesn’t hurt us to make some things a bit explicit, even if it means a bit more effort.”

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