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Body Language Rules When You’re Wearing a Mask

In an industry that relies on human contact, masks conceal expressions, muffle speech and create misunderstandings. But people can read a smile through your eyes.

NEW YORK – It’s harder to show your personality when 50% of your face can’t be seen. Masks can conceal your expressions, muffle your speech, and create misunderstandings between you and those you’re talking to.

But masks are essential when meeting clients.

“I felt muzzled,” says Learka Bosnak, a sales associate with Douglas Elliman of California in Pasadena, Calif. “I was constantly running around saying, ‘I’m smiling under here!’ This business is all about rapport, comfort level.”

Etiquette experts say it’s important to smile – even when wearing a mask. Your mouth may be covered, but your smile is still visible in your eyes and audible in your speech, according to a blog post from Debrett’s, a professional etiquette and coaching company based in London.

It’s also important to make eye contact, so don’t wear sunglasses. “Eye contact will become even more important when we can’t gauge others’ expressions,” Debrett’s says. “Eye contact is the basis of trust, releasing chemicals like oxytocin in the brain.”

Speak more distinctly, too. You have a mask over your mouth, so your speech is muffled and others are unable to read your lips. Raise your voice and speak clearly, Debrett’s suggests.

Heather T. Roy, a Douglas Elliman agent in Bosnak’s office, recently joined Bosnak to meet with a body language expert and learn tips to apply to their business. One point they appreciated: Watch your body language.

“Face the person and make sure your feet are in the right place,” Bosnak told the Journal. “Otherwise, you’re signaling that you are not listening. Now it’s become so rote, I don’t even think about not facing a client when I’m talking to them. If they are behind me and ask a question, I will turn around and look at them.”

Keep your body language positive and open. Avoid slouching or crossing your arms so you come across as friendly and approachable, even in a mask.

Source: “4 Tips for Communicating With a Mask On,” (2020) and “How Do Real-Estate Agents Show Homes During COVID? With Face Masks, Gloves, and Some Ingenuity,” The Wall Street Journal (2020) [Log-in required.]

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