The sign in the employee locker room reads, “Courtesy Pays.” Next to the sign, someone has placed a sticker with a smiley face, and everywhere some notices encourage employees to greet customers with a pleasant attitude and a smile. But there is one problem—all employees must wear a mask.
Out front, masked employees struggle to be pleasant and courteous while dutifully and politely trying to enforce the wearing of masks and social distance mandates on their customers.
Psychology studies suggest that body language may account for 65% of all communication and that facial expressions are among the most universal forms of body language. The facial expressions used to convey fear, anger, sadness, and happiness are similar throughout the world. Research even suggests that we make judgments about people’s intelligence based on their faces and expressions.
Studies also confirm that smiling is one of the most significant body language signals. But a smile can be interpreted in many ways, it may be genuine and natural, or it can be forced and express false happiness, sarcasm, or even cynicism.
With the mandate of masks, a smile and thus a significant part of a person’s communication is eliminated. Combined with the fact that voices are muffled behind a mask, communication can become strained and even challenging.
Fortunately, other body language indicators can help to convey a person’s pleasant demeanor.
The tone of the voice, even muffled through a mask, conveys a more profound message beyond the spoken words. Inflection is a crucial component of communication. Most people speak in a monotone and unenthusiastic voice, especially those who, in the course of their work, ask the same repeated questions over and over. Excitement, enthusiasm, and perkiness in the voice can go a long way toward making the most tedious and repetitious job a little more exciting and will generate an equally upbeat response from the person(s) you are speaking.
Likewise, how a person stands and presents themselves to person(s) they are greeting is equally important as the words that are spoken. Turning your body square with the person(s) being greeted and looking them in the eye(s), lets them know that you are interested in them and that you are ready to respond to their needs. Keeping your body loose, not tense, and your arms open is an inviting position.
The Eyes Have It
Yes, in addition to the mouth, the eyes can be very expressive. Scientists have pinpointed more than 50 different types of smiles, and research suggests that the sincerest smile of all is the Duchenne smile – a smile that pushes up into the eyes. The reason it is more genuine is that the muscles needed to genuinely smile with our eyes are involuntary; they only become engaged in an authentic smile, not in a courtesy smile.
With a Duchenne smile, the muscles in the mouth push the cheek upward, which causes the lower eyelids to squint; lines referred to as crows’ feet appear at the corners, and the eyes themselves will brighten or “twinkle.” In essence, a Duchenne smile brightens the entire face.
Now that masks are mandated for everyone, when indoors or in crowded areas where six feet of social distancing is not practical, the eyes’ ability to project a smile above a mask becomes a vital communication tool.
Often, the eyes can be even more descriptive and telling than the words that are spoken. That is why eyes are crucial to communicating the right message, and even more necessary now that masks covering the mouth and nose have become mandatory.
As a youth, most people experienced “the look” from either their parents or a teacher. The look is a gesture with the eyes that can express contextual thoughts without speaking a single word. The glance, the glare, and the dreaded “eye,” was all that was needed to put you in your place. It is an ocular talent that is genetically passed down from generation to generation.
A person’s eyes can also be a window into a person’s mind and heart and convey emotions and feelings toward others. The flirtatious wink, the wide-eyed look of surprise, the piercing look of anger, the turned down look of sadness, or the twisted look of disgust are all expressed with the eyes.
History Repeats—sort of
Perhaps you have heard the expression that “Everything old is new again.” Social distancing is nothing new, although, in the past, it was done for different reasons. During the Victorian-era of the mid-19th century, it was impolite for a man to stand too close to a woman. As such, large caged hoop skirts called a Crinolinemania (Crinoline for short) were worn to create a barrier between genders in social settings. Also forbidden during that era was inappropriate conversations on the topics of politics and romance, especially by women.
In response to the social restrictions, a secrete code was developed to deliver silent messages to the opposite gender. There were many methods, such as how a woman held and moved her handkerchief, held a book, or manipulated her gloves. One method that caught my eye (pun very much intended) was called EYE FLIRTATION. Perhaps during this COVID19 pandemic, a little practice of eye flirtation might add a bit of excitement to the drudgery of wearing a mask. Maybe you can think of a few additions for these modern times.
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