Reading Social Cues when People are Wearing Masks


Our lives are much different from what we are used to in many aspects. The way we learn, how we spend time with others, how we get essential items, and how we communicate have each shifted in some way. We often smile when we see a stranger when we walk into the grocery store, we raise our eyebrows when asking a question, frown when we are upset or expressing empathy, and so many other expressions that share how we feel. 93% percent of our communication occurs through non-verbal communication.

At this time in our lives, most of us have experienced the communication barrier that our masks cause while they work to protect us. This can be stressful and anxiety provoking. While we may not be able to see the full expressions of others, there are other ways we can work to notice changes and increase our ability to communicate with others.

Under our masks, we are vibrant, caring, loving, intelligent, helpful, and empathetic people. How can we help others notice this?

  • Our eyes

  • Do your best to maintain eye contact with the person you are talking with, this shows you are interested and listening. If eye contact is difficult for you, you can engage in eye contact every few moments then look away.

  • Expressing emotion

  • We express all of our emotions using our eyes and eyebrows. If you are talking with children, exaggerate these movements to express your emotions such as when you are happy, excited, surprised, worried, or confused.

  • Notice the changes in expressions with each emotion. Talk with your children about what different eye movements mean. Squinting eyes can mean someone is happy! Furrowed eyebrows can mean someone is angry. Wide eyes can mean someone is surprised.

  • Smile with your eyes! When the corners of your eyes wrinkle up it is called a Duchenne smile.

  • When talking with children, encourage eye contact by leaning down to their eye level and asking them to maintain eye contact. “Can I see your eyes for a moment?”

  • Body language, such as hand gestures

  • Get the attention of others by gesturing towards the person you are wanting to talk to. When talking you can continue to use these hand gestures to help your listener understand by waving, pointing, clapping, nodding, shrugging your shoulders, giving a thumbs up, etc.

  • Volume and tone of voice

  • Speaking clearly, slightly louder and altering the tone of your voice to match the emotion you are feeling will help your listener understand your perspective at a quicker pace.

  • Pace of speaking

  • If you notice that others are having a hard time understanding you, try speaking clearly at a slower speed.

  • Rephrase

  • Try rephrasing what you are saying or speak using shorter phrases.

  • Communicating with a mask through play

  • Occasionally, encourage some play while wearing a mask. Include all stuffed animals that can also proudly wear a mask. This can help increase communication skills and the normalcy of wearing a mask in social settings if desired.

  • Express your personality through the mask you wear

  • Decorate a mask with fabric markers, jewels, ribbon, etc.

  • Create a personal mask design through tie-dye

  • Purchase a design that you love

by Lauren Spencer

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