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So imagine we’re playing a game of charades. First, I’ll gesture one word, one syllable. Great—my teammates understand. Then I bend my ear for the “sounds like” clue and begin to spread my arms out wide and puff up my face. I keep doing it, confused no one is getting it. Finally, I start dashing around in circles, mimicking (I think) to be moving fast.

What’s my word? Zoom.

I know, it isn’t my teammates’ fault. All my life I’ve been terrible at charades. But aside from getting picked last for any house games, it didn’t matter. Now I’m here to tell you you’d better learn to be more articulate. It may make a big difference in your ability to lead—or just hold onto your job.

One of the endless realities of today’s pandemic is we’re now faced with two uniquely frustrating forms of communication. It started with the video calls, of course, as most of us retreated to our home offices in the spring and were forced to turn once-novel Zoom calls into our primary mode of communicating. Then companies began asking more executives to return to their offices (according to one Korn Ferry survey, half of professionals say they’ve been ask to return by year’s end), which means trying to “talk” with masks on.

Put them together, and it’s a perfect storm for flubbing communication. As it turns out, both online and mask chat distort or outright block our ability to read either lips or eyes well—which happens to be a critical tool we humans have used since the Stone Age. Science tells us up to 40 percent of the English language is visible through the lips, which is just lovely when half your face is covered or you’re squinting into the one-inch squares of faces on a video conference call.

Naturally, some people are remarkably smooth at gesturing their way through either mode—the same way some people can do charades blindfolded. But far too many are just terrible at either and don’t realize it, since our colleagues don’t have the heart to say you’re not Zoom-friendly or can’t manage to enunciate behind a mask.

Give us credit here at Briefings. You may have noticed we covered this novel problem in two stories, You may have noticed we covered this novel problem in two stories, “Mask Communication” and “The Tearing Down of Hiring Walls.” They say proper communication is everything in business—and they are right. If your boss is getting lost trying to understand you, your good work may be all for naught. And Lord help you if you finally get that once-in-a-lifetime job interview and start swiveling in your chair on a video call.

I beg you—work on getting COVID communication down pat. Because you know what’s coming next: taking a Zoom call while holding a meeting in person at the office, mask on.

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