Body Language 4 Facial Expressions

December 1, 2018

The topic of facial expressions is endlessly fascinating. Keeping in mind that all body language is culture specific; still many of the facial expressions are the same no matter what culture is employing them. For example, a child in pain is going to have the same facial expression regardless of where in the world he or she originated.

There are many generalities in facial expressions. For this series, I will key off the Western Cultures to make specific points. Where specific gestures mean different things, I will give some examples to clarify.

There are literally tens of thousands of different facial expressions we use to convey our emotions. It would be impossible to cover them all in one article, but I will lay out some details of the specific parts of the face in my articles over the next several weeks. In this article, I deal with the entire face as a unit.

As Bill Acheson points out in his series “Advanced Body Language,” (www.seminarsonDVD.com) most body language occurs at the subconscious level. We are giving off signals with all facets of body language every moment of the day. The part of body language that we control consciously is facial expressions. You can be having a bad day and still try to wear a pleasant expression. Or you can be quite happy but appear to be angry if you wish. The problem is that when you try to force an expression that is not congruent with the remainder of your body language, it appears phony.

Take the example of the person in the picture above. He has a smile on his face, but his posture is not consistent with someone who is happy. His arms are crossed and he has a slouch. His eyes are squinting. The smile is not convincing and looks pasted on. While he is trying to look happy, the incongruent body language reveals another agenda. We are not really sure what the message is, but it sure isn’t a congenial look of happiness.

We can convey all kinds of emotions just by our facial expressions. For example, as you are reading this, can you convey the following emotions accurately?

Anger
Fear
Love
Happiness
Pain
Surprise
Disgust
Contempt

I think you will agree that it is rather easy to convey these emotions through facial expression. In his program, Bill Acheson shares some research that there is one emotion that men can convey with far greater accuracy than women. That emotion is guilt. His explanation is that for men, guilt is a two-person event “There’s things these guys have done that they thought was funny as Hell till they got found out.” For a woman, guilt is something that is experienced internally, so it is not easy for a female to show an expression of guilt.

One interesting exercise in reading facial expressions is provided by the Greater Good at Berkley Group. They have an online quiz that shows 20 facial expressions and you get to select from four possible explanations. The quiz is located at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ei_quiz/ You will find some of the expressions are easy to follow, but others are quite subtle.

Another example is to try to come up with a word that goes along with the following facial expressions.

 

For comparison to your list, here are the words I would use to describe these expressions in the order given. I do not expect us to agree on all of the interpretations, but I suspect many of them will be similar.

 

 

 

 

1. Pleased
2. Excited
3. Bummed
4. Coy
5. Upset
6. Calm
7. Exasperated
8. Incredulous
9. Scathing
10. Shocked
11. Pondering
12. Surprised
13. Withdrawn
14. Disgusted
15. Fatigued
16. Worried

Exercise for you today

Observe the facial expressions of your family and coworkers at a deeper level than normal today. Notice that you do this at a subconscious level every moment of the day. If you can make the practice more of a conscious activity, you will gain skill in this technique at a rapid rate.

Also notice how you react when one part of a facial expression seems to be at odds with the overall message. For example, if the general impression is a pleasant expression but the eyebrows are furrowed, then you would be less likely to trust your instincts about the person’s true emotion.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Other People’s Pain

January 30, 2015

Man comforting  to a woman isolatedEmpathy is critical if we want to help other people in their time of need. There ought to be a course somewhere in the education system on EMP-101.

This article brings up some cautions about how we express our empathy when people are in crises.

You will hear the phrase “I know how you feel” perhaps thousands of times in your lifetime. The truth is that other people can never fully feel your pain.

They may be able to approximate it based on their own experiences. They may be able to logically deduce how you feel by extrapolating the situation, how you look, and the things you say, but they can never fully experience what you are going through.

Far better to say something like, “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for you.” Since you cannot put yourself fully in the other person’s shoes, why utter banal phrases that make it seem like you can?

I will direct this article mostly to what is called “Professional Hurt” which is a term I learned recently from Dr. Ruby Brown from Jamaica, who coined the phrase. I met Ruby while speaking at the Caribbean Leadership Program in Trinidad.

She wrote her dissertation on the topic of Professional Hurt, which is when a person in a professional setting is abused somehow by managers or circumstances beyond control.

Professional Hurt also would occur when a person gets demoted or is fired. It may be the result of being passed over for a promotion or being marginalized in any number of ways.

When someone else is hurting, spend more time listening to the person. Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh that is just like how I felt last year when I was not given the raise they promised me.” That is not going to make the other person feel any better.

Listening to stories of people who are worse off or have had the same problem does not relieve the person’s pain today.

Rather, ask thoughtful questions if the person wants to talk or just be present if the person is in shock or unable to verbalize the pain.

Body language is particularly important when dealing with another person who is in a crisis. You can show that you care more with your eyes and facial expression than you can with a constant stream of babble. Just listening and nodding may be the best thing you can do for the other person at that moment.

Logic is not a good approach. You may be tempted to cheer the person up by saying, “These things don’t last forever; you’ll be feeling better soon.” Not only does that kind of approach backfire, it can belittle the person who is suffering to imply that time alone will heal the wounds.

Try to avoid hackneyed expressions that are commonly used in the working world. If your friend has just been fired, don’t tell him, “Whenever one door is closed, another will open.”

Do not try to cheer him up with “Nobody likes working for that jerk anyway.” Shut your trap and take your cues from the person who is hurting.

Let your presence and body language do the talking for you. If it seems the other person is in need of a steady stream of words from someone, then you can perhaps help with phrases like, “you’re strong enough to overcome this,” or “what would you like to happen now,” but the laconic approach is usually superior.

Do not recount how your neighbor had the same situation and ended up with a big promotion. All those kinds of phrases may make you feel like you are helping, but in reality little real comfort is coming through the overused phrases or comparisons.

Above all, recognize that you do not know how the other person is feeling and the best thing you can do is admit that. Show your love and feeling by avoiding the typical mistakes made by well intended people who were never offered a course in EMP-101 in school.


Reboot Every Day

June 17, 2012

Surprise! This article has nothing at all to do with computers or technology. Rather, it is about the human condition and spirit.

Every day, there is a special moment for each of us. It is that first instant when we become conscious after sleeping. We may have been dreaming or not; that does not matter. That very first blink of consciousness is something marvelous. Here is what I experience, and I am sure it is the same for you.

Blink. “Oh, I am here. Where is here? Who am I? What is my role here? Am I happy or sad? Do I hurt? What’s on my agenda today?”

Crossing that demarcation line between the unconscious and the conscious world is a kind of “rebooting” activity where we spend just a second or two getting our bearings.

In that instant of first awareness, we each have a wonderful opportunity. We have the power to choose. Whatever external or internal conditions are facing us, we each have the opportunity to decide how to respond to them. I believe that is what separates humans from other species: the power to choose our attitude.

I believe that the freedom to choose my own quality of life is amazingly liberating. I may be waking up as a prisoner of war or a person with a terminal disease or a hangover. In that first blink, I may realize that I have been out of work for six months, or perhaps yesterday I won the Nobel Peace Prize or an Olympic Gold Medal.

Regardless of the miserable or delightful circumstances, I remember my conditions as my brain reboots each morning. I still have the opportunity to choose how I wish to respond to those conditions. Unfortunately, most of us quickly jump to a fatalistic view that we are powerless to modify the quality of life, which is where the opportunity lies.

If we can push the “pause” button in our thinking long enough to suspend the pain or the negative things that are lurking in a corner of our brain to ruin our day, then we might consider the options. For example, this morning, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. with a stabbing pain in my right little toe. The pain actually woke me up. There was no reason why there should have been a pain in my toe today. I did not stub it or drop something on it, but there it was, big as life.

I recall lying there trying to figure out what the pain was. Since I had no clue, my brain continued with the rebooting exercise as I began to think about the good and not-so-good things that awaited me today. When a computer reboots, it does not have options for changing attitudes. It just goes through the programs and determines the health of the system with no ability to change its response to certain failures or bugs.

I decided to let my human side take over and process today in a positive light. After all, I did wake up, so I began to marvel over the choices I had today and the multitude of things I could get done. For example, I could create this article, and though I am not revealing any rocket science here, perhaps my thoughts translated through this medium may be helpful to a few people. As a result, I would be using my energy as a positive force in the universe. What better way to start out a day?

Try to make your first moments of every day a special conversation with yourself. Think about the opportunities you have rather than the difficulties you face. I think there is some powerful magic we all share as part of the human condition. Of course, you can wallow in self pity or depression. It is your life to live. I hope you will use this reminder to make a positive contribution to your mental process right now, and especially tomorrow morning.