Local News

Tips for avoiding miscommunication while wearing masks

Posted May 12, 2020 7:50 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2020 8:02 p.m. EDT

— Wearing masks is the neighborly thing to do. It protects others and helps to stop the spread of coronavirus and other germs. But masks can also be uncomfortable and can cause issues with communication.

"Functionally what masks have done is give everyone a mild hearing loss and is is going to start to impair our communication whether you are aware of it or not," said Dr. Patricia Johnson, an audiologist at UNC's Hearing & Communication Center.

Johnson said wearing masks will be especially tough on those with hearing impairments but everyone may struggle during conversations with face coverings.

"We all do a certain amount of lip reading especially if there is any amount of background noise. If the lighting isn't good, if there is any kind of distracter, we start to rely on our eyes to supplement what we are hearing," Johnson said.

Patricia Johnson, an audiologist at UNC's Hearing & Communication Center

And when we are all wearing masks, lip reading becomes impossible. Masks also muffle our voices, making it harder to hear.

"Our first instinct is to start raising our voice or shouting but that can actually further distort the quality of the sound," Johnson said. "So just slowing down the quality of your speech just slightly. A little more space between the words allows you to be a little more mindful of what you are saying and it gives the other person a little more time to process what you are saying."

Johnson recommends looking people directly in the eye when you are talking to them so they know you are addressing them. She also suggests people put important communication in writing so there is no misunderstanding.

"Masks are going to be here for a while so it kind of behooves everyone to be strategizing our communication to being more intentional and absolutely being patient," Johnson said.

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