Facial Expressions: What Can You Learn Just By Looking at the Face?
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Facial Expressions: What Can You Learn About a Person Just By Looking at the Face?

Published on February 12, 2016 12:00 AM EST
Facial Expressions: What Can You Learn About a Person Just By Looking at the Face?

This is a topic that is of particular interest to me, including the knowledge and skills that go along with learning it well. As a Psychologist, being able to read people’s facial expressions and non-verbal communication is something that goes along with the territory. However, did you know that a person is considered to have a high level of emotional intelligence (EI), when they are able to read the facial expressions and body language of others? Studies indicate that 97% of communication is non-verbal. This means facial expressions, body language, hand gestures. This is the reason that texts and e-mails are so often misunderstood, as people are missing 97% of the context of that message.


Facial Expressions: What Can You Learn About a Person Just By Looking at the Face?

Over the years I have had numerous people come to me and tell me that they struggle to understand these cues, and are unable to understand what a person’s facial expression, body language, or gestures are indicating. It is something that we work a great deal at through role play, discussing situations they encountered, or situations they are going to face. If this is an issue you struggle with, can you imagine how much it could improve your interactions with others if you could master what their facial expressions mean? Well you can, and here is how.


The scienceofpeople.com breaks down the main “micro expressions” that we need to master to read people. They are disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. These are expressions that can be subtle, yet are universal. So, if we are able to learn to read them, we can learn to read people’s meanings in general. We can master what they are really thinking and feeling when we are having a discussion, when we have given them some news, or when we ask them how they feel about something. Mastering the micro expressions can allow us to know if the person is being genuine with us, or if their words do not match what they are really feeling.


This is an important skill in the art of reading people in all types of situations. In the work environment, it can let you know what your boss really feels, if a co-worker wants you to move on because they are busy, or if someone is genuinely engaged in what you have to say. Imagine the benefits it could create if you are in a job that works with the public such as sales? You could tell when someone wants to give you a chance and know more, or if they would really rather be left alone. The reason this is so important is that it helps you allocate your resources and focus your energies where they have the greatest chance of success. That is a powerful tool.


Another area that this is worthwhile and important is in your interpersonal relationships. When someone is saying one thing, but their expression says another, you can know better what they are thinking and feeling about you or a particular topic. The perfect example of this is the response everyone has gotten at one point in their life or another, “its fine,” or, “I’m fine,” when it is very clear that they are not. You are able to tell by the tenseness in their face and body, that their true feelings do not match their words. This is a very useful skill in romantic and platonic relationships, as it helps you to read the person better and be able to say, “It seems like things are not ok, I don’t want you to be upset, so know you can talk to me when you want to.” This lets them know you care and are open.


Something on the newer side that has caused issues with people being able to read facial expressions and body language is the continued use of technology. People are so buried in their phones or devices, that they do not even look up for us to read what they are feeling, or let us see what they are really thinking or feeling on a matter. Instead, we get someone’s head buried in their device, and a very monotone answer that we are not able to read. I hear the issue of many of the younger generation struggling with reading each other, and it makes me wonder if this is a part of the problem. Regardless of why the struggle to read others formed, rectifying and learning the skill is paramount in many areas of a person’s life. If they can learn to develop this skill, they will see improvements in multiple areas of their lives including professionally, personally, and socially. Imagine how much more engaged, enlightened, and productive your life will be if you are able to learn to master reading and understanding facial expressions and non-verbal body language.

Facial Expressions: What Can You Learn About a Person Just By Looking at the Face?
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