COVID-19 is changing the way we communicate – here’s how

Key points

  • Certain aspects of audio communication and video eliminate key elements of nonverbal expression, and when face-to-face, masks prevent us from capturing important facial cues.
  • The deaf and hearing impaired communities are particularly affected because it masks voices and suppresses lip reading.
  • Experts agree that we must be willing to adapt to this new normal, which means being more deliberate about our tone and language choices.

When COVID-19 became a pandemic, the way we communicate seems to have changed overnight. To help minimize transmission, many of us have changed most of our interactions with others.

This includes shifting from face-to-face conversations to online communication methods such as video conferencing, phone calls, text messages or emails, and wearing a mask indoors or when social distancing is not possible.

Although this “new normal” is something we will continue to adapt to, it occurs in a highly emotional period, accompanied by a certain degree of confusion, frustration, and loss of the face-to-face contact we are accustomed to.

Adapt to the new normal

“When things in our lives are relatively calm, communication is difficult enough, but in crisis or stress, emotions can make communication challenging, and a lot of effort is required to ensure that misunderstandings are minimized,” licensed clinical Psychologist Kevin Gilliland explained that PsyD, the executive director of Innovation 360.

It’s time to be flexible and adapt to how we express ourselves to others. As we respond to these changes, it is vital that we show compassion and kindness to each other. The most important thing is to be willing to speak out for personal needs, whether for yourself or others.

Kevin Gilliland, PhD in Psychology

In a crisis or stress, emotions make communication challenging and a lot of effort is required to ensure that misunderstandings are minimized.

— Kevin Gilliland, PhD in Psychology

Restrictions on masks, video chat, and social distancing

Cheryl Dixon, a communication strategist and adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University, reminds us that more than 90% of communication is nonverbal.And it has been proven that we tend to believe in nonverbal communication cues rather than spoken language.

In addition, Dixon said that we use nonverbal communication to convey meaning, modify or supplement our verbal information, and regulate our interaction process. “We are losing a lot of nonverbal cues, including proximity (our spatial environment; how close we are to others, the amount of space we occupy) and kinematics (our body movements and gestures),” Dixon explained .

When we communicate via video, we lose the benefit of seeing certain aspects of body language. After putting on the mask, Dixon said that we have lost the ability to interpret key facial expressions. In addition, our ability to convey emotions through facial expressions is limited.

How to adapt

To compensate for these limitations, Dixon said that using language and tone to express emotions is helpful.For example, smiling and saying “This makes me happy to hear” (or instead If you are wearing a mask, smile). She also suggests that you sign in by asking questions to understand and understand in order to balance and communicate among participants.

In the video chat, Dixon said that people are often distracted by their surroundings, which can easily make people feel bored or uninterested. “Pay attention to attendance and focus, avoid multiple tasks at the same time, and minimize possible interference. This will increase participation and enhance interaction,” she said.

Challenges facing the deaf and hard of hearing communities

During COVID-19, people who are deaf or hard of hearing in particular face major difficulties in communication. Dr. Laurene E. Simms, Interim Chief Bilingual Officer of Gallaudet University, said that for millions of Americans with some degree of hearing loss, The basic issue is to obtain their personal relationships, as well as accurate and timely information about COVID-19 and access to the public health system.

“COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of deaf Americans, whose number is estimated to exceed 2 million. Among the deaf population in the United States, deaf people of color are more vulnerable during this period. Because of blatant discrimination, socioeconomic status, and lack of educational opportunities and transportation and other resources, they often cannot obtain accurate information and public health care,” Sims explained.

Dr. Laurene E. Simms

Among the deaf population in the United States, deaf people of color are more vulnerable during this period, because they often cannot obtain accurate information and public health care due to blatant discrimination, lack of resources such as socioeconomic status and education. Opportunity and traffic.

— Laurene E. Simms, PhD

Sims also pointed out that isolation at home, especially when other family members do not sign, can increase pressure. Sims said this is especially true for most deaf or hard-of-hearing children, because more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.

The problem of limited information

The inability to obtain accurate and timely information is another important problem in the deaf community.

Although many briefings about COVID-19 have closed captioning, Simms said this form of communication has many inherent limitations. “In many cases, you must have a high level of reading to read them, and English is not the first language of many deaf people. In addition, it is usually obtained through printing rather than words,” she said.

In addition, subtitles often omit information, and are inaccurate and difficult to read. The emotional tone of the speaker disappeared in the text. Therefore, Sims said that Americans with deaf-mute sign language are often excluded from important information, such as public health requirements related to social distancing, home orders, hygiene, and wearing masks.

Mask hides facial clues

Simms said that when it comes to the loss of facial expressions due to masks, for deaf Americans, facial expressions play a very important role in the meaning of symbols and also indicate grammatical elements.“For people with hearing, facial expressions are nonverbal cues that support spoken language, but in contrast, ASL relies on facial cues and expressions, as well as eye gaze, head tilt, bulging cheeks, and mouth. Therefore, wear a mask. It will break the grammar of ASL,” she explained.

Sims said that in response to this situation, deaf-mute people are turning to writing notes, texting and hand gestures. But this puts many deaf-mute Americans at risk, she said, because some people may have lower reading skills and less exposure to medical terminology. “As a result, they may not be able to write medical issues with high accuracy,” Sims added.

When managing telemedicine during COVID-19, the deaf and hard of hearing communities rely on the guidelines issued by the National Association of the Deaf. There is also a telemedicine provider section for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Skills for adjusting and coping with these changes

First of all, Gilliland said, we need to stop comparing our current communication methods with our past communication methods; it will not help us move forward, because this is not an event that only requires some adjustments to our lives. “This is a new way of life. The more creative and open we are in doing new things, the better we will do,” he explained.

We also need to slow down when communicating. “Our normal channels of communication are interrupted. This is a very emotional period, and trying to do too much too fast can lead to bad results,” Gilliland said. “Now as far as communication is concerned, we cannot rush for success, so please allow some extra time for a longer conversation on a certain issue,” he said.

If you think the other party may have misunderstood you, Gilliland suggests a follow-up conversation to clarify what you are trying to say. Excessive communication is okay now, even if you usually tend to avoid that kind of thing.

Dr. Emily Hu, a registered clinical psychologist at the Thrive Psychology Group in Southern California, said that another strategy is to strengthen communication. “Now there are some gaps that we don’t usually have, so you need to work harder to ensure that your views are expressed correctly, whether it is asking the other party to repeat what you have said, conveying your views requires emotions in addition to your words. Or in other ways to ensure that they can understand the entire message,” she explained.

Emily Hu, PhD

There are gaps that we don’t normally have, so you need to work harder to ensure that your views are expressed correctly.

— Emily Hu, PhD

When interacting with the same person, Hu recommends finding the communication method that best suits everyone. “Some people use video conferencing to do better than others, and some people prefer text. Try different methods to find matches that are not only effective for others in your social network, but also effective for yourself, and then Do your best to persevere,” she said.

Whenever possible, try video conferencing or at least phone calls instead of text or email, as this can at least save some of the organic feel of a natural and smooth conversation.

However, if you use e-mail or text, if you are worried that you have not read the tone correctly or cannot figure out the other person’s feelings, please be sure to ask for clarification. Nonsense, don’t be afraid to ask them directly, so that you will save a lot of worry in the future.

The most important thing is to be sympathetic to nonsense. “Sometimes you misunderstand others or yourself. Remember, during this pandemic, we are all trying to learn a new way of communication instead of immediately falling into guilt or anger. Give yourself room to make mistakes. ”

What this means to you

In the past few months, life has changed dramatically, and our way of communicating must also change. Learning new ways of interacting has proven to be a challenge, but we can overcome it.

Whether you are asking for clarification while wearing a mask or asking for a video conference at a work meeting, advocating the best way for you, while practicing kindness and grace with others, will help make this process smoother for everyone .

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.