Masking vs Habitual Change in Good Communication
Let’s sort this out.
The other day I was in a workshop and, while working on a communication skill, a participant interjected, “But isn’t it important that we do not pander to masking?”.
Now I have heard it all.
In my career I have heard how people can’t change because they feel ‘un-natural’ or that the listener will feel ‘uncomfortable’ or that they can’t do it because they are an ‘introvert’ and my favourite (which I hear more than you would ever guess) is that they are unable because they are ‘left-handed’ (for a task for which left-handedness has no relevance).
So, “Yes”, I tell her. “That is true, but ‘masking’ has absolutely nothing to do with what we are doing here”. In fact, it is just another excuse to block healthy change.
So, let’s start with what ‘masking’ means. Masking, as the term implies, is about hiding or blocking. In psychology it is a defence mechanism to hide or disguise true thought, feelings or intentions.
Moving on to discuss habitual patterns of communication, it has nothing to do with hiding or blocking anything. For instance, let’s imagine you are passing a business card. I know people rarely do such a thing nowadays, but let’s imagine. You take it in one hand, not aware of whether it is upside down or otherwise and just pass it over with an outstretched arm.
Now, anyone who has done the most basic cultural training knows that in Japan, there is an etiquette for this simple act. The Japan Living guide tells us:
Offer your business card with your right hand, and hold it by the top corner, so as not to cover any names or logos. Your cardholder should be held in your left hand.
So, by adopting this etiquette, one has to change one’s habit to be more effective in that environment. It is not masking anything. And it is the same with eye contact, gesturing, frameworks of communication and the way you walk. New patterns are not masks and sometimes they are heap more healthy as an alternative to what you were doing before.
In the Harvard Business Review article ‘Leaders, Drop your Masks’, Peter Fuda says ‘the mask’ was a metaphor that sparked the greatest interest amongst leaders and he found this mostly relevant for women. Let’s just make it clear that suggesting leaders drop their mask is all very interesting as leaders mask inadequacy, but very different to the skills of communication.
Please don’t confuse masking and being effective in your communication. One is a personality issue, one is about being effective in your communication.
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