Facemasks have forced us to evolve the way we communicate and engage with people

Imprints and erosions: Covid and the organizational (mis)communication

February 3, 2021
Hèctor Verdú Martí

This morning, after the shower, I discovered marks behind my ears. The abrasion of the elastic bands of the masks. Slowly, what started as an uncomfortable and even painful tightness has ceased to bother. As the winter settled, masks even protect from cold air and help prevent colds. But today I have realized that the mark left by this piece of cloth, which has become a part of us, and we no longer despise, does not fade away after a while of not wearing it. And in my case, I spend many hours at home without wearing it!

The mask is the metaphor. I can't help but wondering how many other things are becoming permanent. The distancing from others? Suspicion and distrust towards potentially contagious people? Are my feelings hardening due to lack of hugs and I still haven't noticed it? I realize that I miss you, that I long for the shelter of your arms. Or I don't notice it and I won't until I have them again. And then I will see everything that I have been longing that currently I'm not aware of.

I don't watch much TV. Usually news programs. All journalists appear with masks covering their mouths. Recently, my wife and I decided to watch a movie and people, obviously, was uncovered. It felt weird, though. Like when someone who has grown a beard one day shaves it off. Like when someone goes to the hairstylist and you look at her and you don't really know what has changed, but it seems different without ceasing to be the same.

With the masks we have learned to sharpen other perceptual skills. The jokes are not the same when we do not see the smile. And the eyes? What do the looks tell us? There are beautiful gazes I have never noticed before. The door to the soul of the people, like the gesture and the walk.

After Covid we'll have to relearn social and communication skills that have we have surrendered to the masks and the videocalls

But all of these don't prevent miscommunication and misunderstandings. Masks cover the voice, kill the treble, eliminate nuances, erase part of the facial expression. If before we were not trained to listen, only to hear, how can we be now after months of digital communication? Although not deliberately, masks and digital environments hide information which we normally use and help us make decisions, paving the way for assumptions and misunderstandings. No matter how many emoticons we use, where is the non-verbal language in the emails or the messages on the mobile? What is hidden behind a camera turned off in a video conference? What facial expressions can I distinguish in the 20 tiny micro-windows, that cram my computer screen in a video conference? How much information am I missing or understating? How much is based on assumptions rather than facts? I wonder if in our organizations, at work, communication has not worsened in the last year and we have also been assuming it as something normal.

At the end of this process, we will have to reflect on all these elements. Some things that the pandemic has brought us will have been good, especially one: the slowdown and the focus on what really matters, the purpose and quality of life of each one of us, and perhaps we will want more. It would be good. But at the same time, we will have to rebel against what have become normal habits during this time. Because no, digital communication is not as efficient as direct communication, because we need human proximity, because people and not technology are our reason for being, because the emotions that we hide and that we have had to hide are what makes us more humans. And because, ultimately, what depends on people cannot be addressed without humanity.