Demonstrating one’s emotional intelligence at work can be very beneficial, but also challenging—especially when trying to read another’s emotions hidden behind a mask. When workplaces open up again and we’re working in the same physical space as others, many of us will likely to be wearing masks. How well will you be able to read the emotions of others?
Emotional intelligence includes personal and social competencies in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These competencies can be extremely valuable in navigating relationships in the workplace. Social awareness is about the ability to accurately recognize another’s emotions and demonstrate empathy. It is about discerning what may be unsaid, but communicated in more subtle ways.
The best protective mask fully covers both the nose and mouth, thus blocking what can help reveal emotions. We rely a great deal on recognizing whether someone is happy, sad, angry, disappointed or surprised by whether the corners of the mouth are turning up or down, a tightening of the jaw, flaring of the nostrils and other facial features.
So how can you recognize the emotions of others when shielded by a mask? Without being able to see the nose or mouth, you’ll need to rely more on what is revealed in their tone of voice and what you can determine from the other person’s eyes.
You’ll need to work harder to understand their intent, seek information from their body language and continually check your assumptions in order to fully understand.
According to researcher Albert Mehrabian regarding communication, he determined that 55% is revealed through body language, 38% through tone of voice and 7% through the actual words that are spoken. While this breakdown is not absolute and can’t be applied to every situation, it is helpful to see the importance of communication beyond the words spoken.
Since nearly 40% of communication can potentially be understood from one’s tone of voice, we should be able to pick up useful information regarding the other’s emotions from this alone. A tone of voice that is perceived as confident and more direct may lead you to respond very differently than when it is softer and more subtle. A deeper tone is often associated with more confidence and trustworthiness. A tone that is lower in volume could indicate inexperience or inhibition.
It can be challenging to determine what a person’s eyes reveal from an emotional standpoint, but these so-called “windows of the soul” can be helpful if you know what to look for.
For example, people blink a lot more when they are surprised, angry or annoyed. When someone’s pupils dilate, it could be because they are feeling stimulated, or it could simply be due to their being in a dimly lit area. Those who fail to maintain eye contact or look from side-to-side could be lying or it could mean they are merely timid. Certainly, this will take further discernment on your part to take everything into account.
One’s eyes can reveal a great deal of social and emotional information. A quick glance or an extended gaze can be interpreted differently by the receiver. The quick glance could mean simply checking to see your reaction and emotional state to what’s been said. Or it could mean an inability to stay locked in when interacting with you. But is this due to a lack of confidence or shiftiness? Again, you’ll need to take other factors into account.
Effectively working with others is greatly enhanced with high emotional intelligence. However, during this time of COVID-19 when you are likely to encounter others wearing masks, it will be more difficult for social awareness. It will be especially important to focus on tone of voice and the look in one’s eyes in order to understand their emotional state. Don’t let the presence of a physical mask prevent you from seeing what’s behind it.