Some aspects of in-person communication have suffered as we continue to cover our faces to protect against COVID-19, but according to information from the Greater Good Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, science suggests we can still work around this barrier and get a lot across by using gestures, voice and especially eye contact.

Here are some pro tips:

  1. Assert the importance of wearing a mask in preventing infection but acknowledge the challenges it creates. The evidence is clear: Widespread, correct use of masks prevents community spread of COVID-19. It’s important to say this to each other because it helps us to accept their reality and necessity, in the same way we accept wearing glasses when our vision is bad or wearing a jacket when it’s cold. Adults come to accept these items because we know their advantages outweigh any inconveniences or constraints they might impose.
  2. Cultivate mindfulness while wearing a mask. In a paper published last year, Mathias Schlögl and Christopher A. Jones, two doctors who specialize in the treatment of dementia, pointed to simple mindfulness as a way to make yourself understood through a mask. They suggest creating a personal ritual before visiting patients, which is advice that can also apply to educators or anyone running a meeting. “Once we become more aware of our characteristic gestures and body language, we can then go about aligning our nonverbal signaling with our spoken message,” they write. “If we do not practice the habit of underlining everything we say with gestures and pantomime, the message we convey might be harder to interpret.”
  3. Remember that you have eyes, eyebrows, body language and a voice. For some people, gesticulating and modulating your voice will come naturally; for them, these habits of communication might predate the pandemic. For others, such expressiveness might require more intention and effort. Because the mask muffles your voice, you might need to raise it to a level that feels unnatural, and make more effort to enunciate and speak more slowly than you otherwise might. Remember that communication is a skill — one at which you can get better.
  4. Explore the roles of culture and personality. Eye contact and hand gestures mean different things in different cultures. Individuals also have preferences, of course, and they might even have mental or physical conditions that affect nonverbal communication.
  5. Cultivate connection, warmth and responsiveness. Face the person with whom you’re communicating. Though the protocols of eye contact will vary across cultures, you should at least make sure you have their attention. Make an effort to be warmer and friendlier than you might normally be to overcome the impediment of a mask. You might also make it a point to check in, from time to time: “Are you hearing me ok? How are you feeling? Should we continue or take a break?” Because communicating in a pandemic consumes more energy and bandwidth than in normal times, people might become tired more easily. Give yourselves frequent breaks, and don’t be afraid to share where you are in the conversation to keep on track.