COVID times have got us into many compulsions; one of which is wearing a mask for protection and prevention. We now don’t see the other’s non-verbal communication as we used to earlier. How do we perceive or understand the person and his expressions behind the mask? Is he crying or laughing? Is he happy or sad? Is he agitated or calm? Is he surprised or not? How do I know his true feeling? How do I know what he is going through and expressing?
Human facial expressions are one of the most important non-verbal ways in which we communicate. Facial expressions are an important aspect of understanding the body language of a person. Every one of us, have our basic facial expressions regardless of our age, race, language or religion. There are seven basic emotions that are hardwired in our brains and facially expressed, where in the mouth, lips and nose play an important role, for instance;
- When a person is angry – Eyebrows pulled down, upper eyelids pulled up, lower eyelids pulled up, margins of lips rolled in, lips may be tightened.
- When a person is fearful – Eyebrows pulled up and together, upper eyelids pulled up, mouth stretched
- When a person is in disgust – Eyebrows pulled down, nose wrinkled, upper lip pulled up, lips loose.
- When a person is happy – Muscle around the eyes tightened, “crow feet” wrinkles around the eyes, cheeks raised, lip corners raised diagonally.
- When a person is sad – Inner corners of eyebrows raised, eyelids loose, lip corners pulled down.
The mouth and lips are two parts of our face that play a big role in the expression of all the basic emotions as mentioned above. When we have a mask on, and do not see the person’s mouth and lips, how do we gauge the expression, how do we manage to understand the body language of the person talking to us? How do we know if the person is showing any interest in the conversation? In such a situation the role of the eye expression, hand and eye movement, the tone of voice and verbal cues is what we can turn our focus on, to understand the emotions of the person we are engaging in conversation with. Our emotions get reinforced by our tone of voice, our verbal cues, and our hand and eye movement.
Some of our emotions and expressions are learnt behaviour; so how do children understand and perceive from the expressions of parents and significant adults in their environment when they see them in masks. It is not easy and we may not have a remedial answer to this, given the times we are in. While we know the wearing of masks is a compulsion and necessity, it is causing us some hitches and changes in our basic communication patterns.
Every difficult situation we are thrown in brings in new learning and skills, new ideas and new methods of expressing our feelings. We may well learn to observe and understand body language without giving much value to the part of the face that’s covered by the mask.
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AUTHOR: Nagesh, Lead Counsellor
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