Pedagogy in a Pandemic: Teaching Negotiation to a Masked Room

By Lara SanPietroon / Teaching Negotiation

people with masks

How can instructors teach students to interpret facial expressions and body language while masked in negotiation?

As teachers and students prepare to return to the classroom in the fall, it is likely going to look a lot different. With social distancing and masks, students face new challenges when trying to read facial expressions in negotiation simulations. Masks, while protecting us all from the spread of COVID-19, limits perspective on facial expressions. Being unable to correctly interpret other parties’ facial expressions adds an extra layer of uncertainty in negotiation. Teaching students to adapt expectations for masked negotiations will help them better set up for success. There are some aspects of facial expressions and body language that students should focus on that are either less hampered by wearing a mask, or have different expectations in a post-pandemic classroom:

  • Eye contact: increased focus on people’s eyes and eyebrows can provide a basis for interpreting their emotions. This can also be a key teaching point for students regarding their own self-awareness. If they are wearing a mask, and perhaps unintentionally furrowing eyebrows, others may interpret this as anger or frustration because they can’t see the rest of  their face.
  • Tone of voice: even with a mask on, tone of voice will come through, although may be a bit muffled. Asking a counterpart to repeat something because of mask-muffled talk may also be a good opportunity to gain an extra moment to formulate a better response.
  • Greetings and handshakes: pre-pandemic, if entering a negotiation and another refused to shake hands, that might indicate an adversarial relationship. However, in a masked classroom, unwillingness to shake hands more likely indicates a caution around COVID-19. Pointing out to students that their perceptions of greetings may need to shift can be a useful lesson for students in a post-pandemic classroom. Having students come up with different pandemic-safe ways of greeting that indicate a willingness to cooperate can be an important way for them to set up for a negotiation.

These are just a few of the body language dynamics in negotiation that can be impacted by masks. Have you already started teaching negotiation in-person in a masked classroom? How have your students dealt with interpreting facial expressions when masked? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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This is part of our ongoing Pedagogy in a Pandemic series. What has worked well for you in online courses or in a return to in-person learning? Please leave us a comment with your feedback.

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