Tuesday 28 April 2015

5 Tips For Reading Facial Expressions

We say a lot even when we don’t say a thing. Body language is a clear give-away of what we’re feeling or thinking. Awareness will help us improve our body language and read others too! 

‘Lie To Me’ was a fascinating series featuring a deception detection expert who spotted criminals purely on facial expressions. It was based on the work of Dr Paul Ekman, the co-discoverer of micro-expressions.

Our facial expressions reflect what we feel on the inside and are therefore important to understand. Communication in offices today is done around a conference room table where body language like hand gestures, posture, crossing legs and facial expressions are noted.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind to understand facial expressions:

  1. Should be consistent with our words: giving mixed cues of verbal and non-verbal communication is confusing. Always be consistent in what is being said and how it is said. For example, you may be unwell and in pain and you go in for a first meeting with someone. Your facial expressions may be inconsistent with your language and may be wrongly interpreted by the other person.

  2. Eye contact: Eyes are called ‘the window to the soul’ and are said to ‘speak a thousand words’. Maintaining eye contact when speaking indicates interest. While intense staring is interpreted as aggression, shifty eyes that can’t hold a gaze are interpreted as the person being insincere. For example, if a junior looks away when timelines are being chalked out, the manager may not feel confident that he will deliver. 

    It is wise, however, to know the cultural impact of eye contact. Extended eye contact is not appropriate in certain cultures.

  3. Eye movement: Blinking is a very minor movement but an important observation in a conversation. Blinking rate tends to increase when a person is stressed or uncomfortable. It also increases when the mind wanders.

    When someone is excited by an idea their pupils will be significantly more dilated. Similarly, looking down at the floor is a natural response when someone is not being truthful. Awareness about these cues gives may give you an edge in a conversation or negotiation.

  4. Micro Expressions: Micro expressions are brief involuntary facial expressions that are difficult to fake and reveal the true inner feelings of a person. There are seven universal micro expressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt. They often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second.
    For example – you may be speaking with an industry associate who may reiterate that he doesn't see you as competition but his facial expression says otherwise. You may detect that slight one sided slant that appears to be a smile but is actually contempt.

  5. Lips: Pursed lips could indicate distaste or disapproval. Lip biting may mean stress. Covering mouth is indicative of hiding an emotional response. Slight changes in the mouth are subtle indicators of how a person is feeling – slightly up means happy, slightly down could mean sad or disapproval. A sincere smile will go a long way in establishing rapport with the other person. 

An awareness of facial expressions will help us develop more empathy and emotional intelligence as it helps us recognize feelings in others and therefore helps us respond better to others. 

When I take Image management sessions for my clients, non verbal communication is an important area that people come back and say has helped them in their daily lives.

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