8 Tips for Improving Communication When Wearing a Face Covering [downloadable]
Cloth face coverings obscure facial features, disrupting speech perception and the emotion conveyed by the speaker. They also filter speech, making sounds less clear. When it is harder to understand speech—whether because of cloth face coverings, distance, or other factors—research suggests that we have fewer cognitive resources to process information deeply. As a result, communication suffers, and feelings of stress and isolation may increase.
Speech, language, and hearing capabilities are highly individualized. These difficult times offer all of us the opportunity to be mindful about communication. It will require extra effort. I encourage everyone to meet these challenges with patience, kindness, and a commitment to problem-solving. Speak more clearly and perhaps louder than you normally would (without shouting). If a clear face covering is available, consider using it in place of the cloth face covering you currently use, so that your mouth is visible.
Ask the person you’re speaking with if they understand what you’re saying. Another option is to ask them to repeat back what you’ve said. You can also offer to use another method (smartphone, paper and pen, whiteboard) to get your message across. And, when possible, avoid loud background noise when interacting. This can both improve comprehension in the moment and protect your hearing for the future.
Is the person you’re communicating with having trouble understanding you? Ask and adapt if needed.
Face coverings block visual cues and muffle sounds that help us understand speech, which can make interactions frustrating.
Consider how physical distancing might affect your communication. As distance increases, sound levels decrease, and visual cues are more difficult to see.
BE LOUD AND CLEAR
Speak up, but don’t shout. Focus on speaking clearly. Consider wearing a clear face covering, if possible. If you’re having trouble understanding, ask the person you’re talking with to speak louder. If you lip-read, ask those you interact with regularly to wear a clear face covering.
TURN DOWN THE BACKGROUND VOLUME
Background noise can make conversation especially hard. When possible, move to a quieter spot or turn down the sound.
COMMUNICATE ANOTHER WAY
Use a smartphone talk-to-text application or writing tools (paper/pen, whiteboard) to communicate.*
CONFIRM THAT YOUR STATEMENT IS CLEAR
Ask if your message has been understood.
BRING A FRIEND OR BE A FRIEND
If it’s essential that you comprehend important spoken details—during a discussion with a health care provider, for example—consider bringing a friend or family member with you. Or, offer to come along to listen and take notes when a friend has an important appointment or meeting.
Download a PDF of the information sheet shown below.
Source: US Department of Health and Human Services | Cloth face coverings and distancing pose communication challenges for many, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/about/nidcd-director-message/cloth-face-coverings-and-distancing-pose-communication-challenges-many | public domain. Retrieved January 2021
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