“A mask tells us more than a face”, Oscar Wilde

I was struck by an article that landed in my in box this week. Entitled ‘How to build rapport…while wearing a mask’[1]. To me it was another example of our need to adapt to these new, strange circumstances in which we find ourselves. There is obviously a near-term need to be flexible and change how we do things, but the question I ponder more is what of the longer-term ramifications of the experiences we are currently having?

The article offers some tips on how to be more effective in one’s communication and how to improve the ‘mask voice’. The author talks of four key elements: pause – in the absence of visual hints that you’re pausing for a response, elongate the pause to allow opportunities for an answer; accentuate – emphasise key phrases; volume – speak up! and emotion – try to make your voice more expressive. In addition, the piece talks about greater use of body language, engage in active listening, smiling with your eyes and knowing when to organise a face to face meeting versus a Zoom/Teams equivalent.

In many ways the tips offered reflect some of the hints and suggestions that we’ve been receiving for years when attending presentation or sales training. But they do hone in on a more nuanced approach – almost as if greater attention is paid to details that in more ordinary times would not be noticed. It reminds me of the early days of Zoom use, where great attention would be paid as to the positioning of the video camera: too low and a double-chin is exposed; too high and the shine of a receding hairline is visible! The conundrum I have yet to solve is to position the camera in a place where it looks as if I am engaged with the other person rather than in the other direction when looking at them! No doubt a future iteration of laptops will have cameras embedded behind the screen and link eye to eye movements.

The new environment is also accelerating other trends in the work-place etiquette. Over the past couple of years, I have seen the slow demise of the use of ties in meetings. A decade back it would have seemed quite cavalier to attend a meeting without a tie, now generally it is acceptable, but meetings are not guaranteed to be entirely tie-less. But I don’t believe I have seen a single tie on any of the Zoom calls in which I have participated. That said, I am attending an online interview in a week’s time for a trustee role and have the dilemma of tie or no tie – being a traditionalist I would always wear a suit and tie for an interview, but what is the ‘done thing’ online? I have a week to worry some more about that!

Going back to the article, however, I did wonder whether we would find ourselves – in a future state – where mask wearing did become the norm. I struggle to imagine that. If the need for masks remains then are we more likely to persist with the use of online meetings and, where necessary, face to face meetings but socially distant without face coverings?

Fast forward 10 years and it will be interesting to see the impact 2020 has on the way we live and work. Transformational or a temporary aberration with usual service resumed? Hopefully something akin to normal but with the addition of the more positive lessons from the experience.

[1] https://hbr.org/2020/09/how-to-build-rapport-while-wearing-a-mask?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod_actsubs&utm_content=signinnudge

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