Behind the Mask

These days, a trip to the supermarket is quite a production; prepare my list of “must haves” (for the love of Pete, please tell me you have toilet paper!), hand sanitizer in my purse, Clorox wipes on the front seat of my car, and the final, most important accessory for my outing…a mask.

To be clear, I have always hated masks. As a child, I never picked a Halloween costume that would require me to wear one, and I avoided other kids in the neighborhood that were. For some unconscious reason, I’ve never liked them, and I think it goes deeper than a simple fear. As an extrovert that derives energy from face to face communication, I really want to see and read the emotions of people I interact with; obviously, our current situation is making that a challenge.

In the time of COVID-19, a mask is a public health requirement, and I will happily continue to wear mine to protect lives, but I would like to address an interesing phenomenon I’ve observed because of our new facial additions.

In every leadership development session I facilitate, I remind leaders that they set the tone for their team; from how they walk into the building first thing in the morning, open a meeting, or kick off a 1:1, their tone dictates the team response. However, it’s not the words spoken that are most impactful. Over 50 years of research, it has been proven repeatedly that what we SEE drives how we hear, understand, and internalize a message; if our non-verbal cues don’t support the words being spoken, the receiver of information will defer to behaviors and expressions they are experiencing. Simply put, it truly is not what you say, it’s how you say it.

I try to set a positive tone every day, and the easiest, non-verbal way to do so is with a smile. Whether I’m in the car line at my son’s school, presenting in front of an audience of 150 people, providing a virtual coaching session for a first time leader, or even picking out a pair of jeans at the department store, I always make eye contact, and share a smile with those I encounter; it is a simple gesture that makes people feel seen, valued, and builds connection. What happens when you are required to wear a mask that eliminates that option?

Unfortunately, in the absence of smiles, I’ve noticed a change when I leave the house; people are keeping their eyes down, moving quickly through their tasks, with little interaction with anyone. I undestand that some of these behaviors can be attributed to fear of the unknown due to the circumstances we are living in, but it saddens me, because now, more than ever, we need kindness, caring, and human contact.

My challenge to you…the next time you put on your mask and head to the supermarket, the park, or even if you’re sitting at a stop light in your car, connect with a stranger. I find myself waving more, dancing a little two step to make someone giggle under their swatch of fabric, or actually saying “Hey! How is your day going?” (from a safe distance of course). We have the ability to set the tone for others in our daily lives; with so much uncertainty and fear, positivity is necessary and important. Don’t let a mask stop you from being the bright spot in someone’s day.

Shout out to my incredibly talented Aunt Rita for making the beautiful and functional mask you see in the pictures. Cheers to her, and all the heroes furiously sewing to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Stay safe. Stay healthly. Stay kind.

If you would like to learn more about non-verbal, verbal, and virtual communication strategies, contact us at and ask about our “Essential Communication Skills” training module.

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