We are continuing the quarterly guest blog series “What you need to know to master business body language.” Barbara Chatzkel, The Body Language Pro, is going to give you guidance on what you need to know about your business body language. This is so important as we know that clothes and our appearance are part of forming first impressions. But when was the last time you thought about what you are saying with your body language? I know you will enjoy learning as much about body language as I have!
Your Face is an Encyclopedia – by Barbara Chatzkel
You’ve worked to develop a professional, comfortable and unique style that showcases the inner you. But, when was the last time you thought about the body language that you use every minute of the day? Is it broadcasting the same unique, professional and comfortable body language message that you convey with your wardrobe?
The first blog in this series covered what you need to know about business body language. Today we focus on your face. Not only are we starting at the top of the body, we are starting with the most important broadcaster of body language.
Body Language is nonverbal communication as a means of transmitting information. There are four components of that communication- body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Two of these four areas are part of the face which is why when you look at a person, you first look at the face.
Facial Body Language – what to look for
Make sure to take many good looks at a person’s face during any conversation. The face is the most expressive body language “broadcast center” because there are so many separate features sending out messages.
A list of what areas of the face to observe for body language messages includes:
- Eyes — creases, irises, and general appearance
- Nose and nostrils
- Mouth – upper lip, lower lip, smile
- Overall positioning of the face – tilted forward or back? Sideways? Symmetrical?
If each of these features is capable of a minimum of five different expressions, then there is the potential for more than 50,000 different combinations of facial expressions!
Take a moment and think about a situation where you were with a person who was very happy. How did you know that? More than likely their facials features showed
- Wrinkles/creases around the eyes
- Sparkling eyes
- Slightly raised eyebrows
- Raised cheeks
- Corners or the mouth lifted
Now, they did not think about each of those five facial expressions, and you did not process each of them separately. All the action took place in less than one second for each of you — the expression of happiness is almost immediate and your interpretation was split second.
The one example illustrates the power of facial body language as well as how fleeting each expression can be. It is amazing that we rapidly and continuously process the ever changing messages without having to stop and think about each component. Much of the translation ability on “automatic” and can catch the message quickly.
Is that smile really a smile?
The most asked question about facial body language is “how can I have a genuine smile?”
Think of the last photographs taken of you. Were you happy with your smile? Did it look more like a grimace? Differentiating between a genuine and a fake smile is pretty straightforward. Characteristics of a genuine smile include:
- Eyes crinkled, especially at the outside corners
- Nose may be slightly crinkled
- Corners of lips turn upward naturally and the lips part revealing teeth
- The “apples” of the cheeks raise and look puffy
- It is a broad grin
Characteristics of a fake smile include:
- Lips tend to move laterally toward the ears instead of upward
- Teeth and jaws are clenched together even when revealing teeth
- Mouth may be closed and tight-lipped
The differences between the two types of smiles, as shown in the comparison photos, are slight, but the message conveyed is vastly different.
Eyebrows – Not just for Groucho Marx or Albert Einstein
Another place to look for big clues about what the other person is feeling is to check out the eyebrows. This is not an evaluation if they are well groomed eyebrows or if they are unruly. Our focus is on eyebrow movements. Yes, that thin line of hair above your eyes is very expressive.
If you are meeting someone for the first time, watch their eyebrows! If they smile and the eyebrows “flash,” that is rise rapidly and then return to the neutral position, then the conversation will go well. Interestingly, this phenomenon occurs only the first time you meet someone.
Things to observe about eyebrows and what it might mean:
- “Knitted” eyebrows (raising the eyebrows and moving them together) signals displeasure, unhappiness, or anxiety
- Raised eyebrows accompanied by widely opened eyes may signal surprise, worry, or fear
- Lowered eyebrows with crease lines between them signifies anger or displeasure
As with all body language, you should not draw a conclusion just based on one component or body part broadcast. Look at the whole face, or if possible, the whole person and evaluate what you see as a whole.
Some of the differences in facial expressions/messages are very subtle. By observing facial body language and learning some of the finer points, you will greatly improve your ability to accurately receive the message being sent.
In my next blog we’ll learn more about feet and legs. They don’t lie so they provide powerful indicators of what is really going on.
Enjoy summer, smile, and remember to periodically check to see that your body language actually mirrors the message you want to send.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a short quiz to test your knowledge of facial body language messages.