The Guide to Face Expressions in Body Language - Part 2

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Hi and welcome to the second part about face expressions in body language.

On this page, it's getting a bit more personal. If in the first part the focus was on the principles behind what and why we communicate with the face, now it's about how to utilize such knowledge.

Please mind that I don't mean to pretend to teach you stuff you already know from birth, it would be similar to explaining how to use your hands to lift, or your mouth to chew. No, my single goal is to sharpen some fine points regarding face expressions so you can willfully adjust what you communicate or interpret about them.

Unveiling the Mask

We saw that faking emotions isn't an easy feat, so spotting the fake ones is a matter of observation, to see when the expression is strained and deliberate.

I do want to list some markers to help you distinguish fake from true. I also recommend learning the features of the universal face expressions to get a better understanding of how they appear naturally.

1. True emotions don't last long on the face. A true smile doesn't last forever, keeping it too long and it looks plastered or simply idiotic. In fact, some of the more genuine signals we have are micro-expressions.

Note: Micro-expressions are face expressions that last a split second. They're relevant in times of stress, when someone keeps an appearance, but for a split second the mask drops and the genuine emotion spills out. It's an emotional leak that doesn't' last long.  The problem of course is noting such expressions, if you're really interested, there are programs that teach just that.

2. It doesn't need to be exaggerated. People who want to fake feelings often turn to drama actors. Their problem is that they make it excessive; they want others to see that they feel in a certain way, but in reality, genuine emotions are often barely visible.

3. They're not always in "pure" form. When it comes to reality - you'll see that it's quite hard to isolate emotions solely from facial expressions, even if you know their signs, simply because they're not static. That's why you get mixed expressions or face expressions in "transition".

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That's why it's often hard to identify the correct emotion in a snapshot. Without the context and seeing what preceded and followed that certain expression, we can't be sure what it is about.

4. Even if you did everything right, you must remember that very often, your strongest tool in reading body language is your own emotion. Definitions and methods can get you this far, but sometimes it's impossible to put an expression to words. So don't cling to it, use your intuition and allow your mirror neurons do the work they are designed to do.

Don't get stuck

Let's talk about how your face is usually set - what's your "default" natural face expression. I already talked about face features and how they affect first impressions. You can't change that, but you can alter and regulate your expressions if you're dedicated enough and have some good friends.

Considering that you don't actually see yourself, except from the times you look in the mirror, you don't really know how you look "normally". This means that how others see you, and what you imagine yourself to look, isn't quite the same.

He might be very cheerful inside...or not

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For example, you may have a grave or grim face, just because you're used to hold that expression, even when you actually feel quite content. Other people, of course, don't know that and may feel uncomfortable around you.

On the other hand, you may appear juvenile and perhaps a little naive if you smile too much. You aim to be friendly but others can judge you as weak and needy, and some of them may even try to take advantage of you.

If you do have an image that bothers you, it may involve your natural face expression that undermines you. And that's where your friends, family, or people who know you well can help. Ask them, what do they think about you, do you have any "default" expression or some quirks they're used to see when looking at your face?

If you suspect this to be true - you need to take manual control.  First step is self-awareness, I don't expect you to be aware to your face all day long, but you can practice, and be more attentive at specific occasions. If we return to the grim face example, you could try smiling more when you're participating in social gatherings. Yes... it's fake, but sometimes it's better than nothing.


Don't be afraid to practice in front of the mirror too! Feel how the muscles rest in different expressions and try to imitate them without looking at the mirror.

This may sound trivial and minor, but remember that's a loop - the way you look affects how others judge you and treat you - what in turn affects your feelings and your impression of yourself - and back to square one, it affects what sort of face and posture you wear.

This is how you do it!

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If you intend on breaking this cycle, you need to change one of the steps. Since it's hard to control how you feel, and perhaps even harder to change what others think about you, the weakest link is your own behavior and beliefs, start there.

Moving On

On the last page we continue with some practical and useful advices - learn to take advantage of your eyebrows, and even regulate your emotions with the poker face.

Face Expressions Part 3

or return to Part 1

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