Look into my eyes…
Sarah Bradbury discusses communication in the post-pandemic world.
As dental professionals, you and your team have been used to the challenge of communicating whilst wearing masks for a lot longer than most; looking into your patients’ eyes for signs of discomfort or calmness, often receiving muffled noises with your gloved fingers in their mouths in return. Recent months have however taken this to another level, with masks, visors and full PPE having become the norm. And in everyday life we are all having to learn to communicate more using our eyes whilst politely asking people to repeat what we can only vaguely hear.
Facial expressions of course play a major role in communication; relaying feeling, emotions and unspoken thoughts between individuals. To read others faces allows us to process the situation and know how to respond to it.
Scientists have a facial action coding system that taxonomises the movement of human facial muscles and actions. A nose wrinkle, for example, involves the middle of our faces and smiling and grimacing obviously involves our lower muscles. However, while wearing a mask these can’t always be seen, let alone used to fully judge or sometimes even understand the interaction, as the middle and lower face are known to be very influential in terms of emotional recognition. A face mask can therefore hinder interpersonal connection and the ability to understand people’s expressions during conversations.