by Laurie Wilhelm
Face gestures are the part of body language that can be the easiest to read and at the same time, the most difficult. How many times have you not felt happy but “put on a happy face” because you were in a public place and wanted to cover up your true emotions?
Not only that, but have you smiled for different reasons that didn’t necessarily reflect your emotion? For example, sometimes we put on a “knowing” smile when we come to a realization, an “oh – I get it now” smile. Then there are times when we smile when we’re embarrassed. Other times we smile as a polite greeting to someone even when we’re feeling lousy on the inside. In this situation, our face gesture is a sort of mask to cover our true emotion.
Smiles are face gestures among many which contribute to understanding the range of body gestures (note: Ron Bailes covers the three types of smiles very well in his Reading People series). As we’ve illustrated above, the meanings of face gestures depend largely on the situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves. They also vary according to the culture and background. We’re focusing primarily on face gestures that are generally common in North America.
The Importance of Understanding Face Gestures
It’s always beneficial to read people’s body gestures as accurately as possible. To understand how people are feeling and reacting to what you’re saying is a skill that will help you determine if you’re getting support from your listeners and should continue along the same lines, if you’re confusing your listeners or they need other information so you should switch approaches, or your listeners don’t want to have anything to do with what you’re presenting so it would be best for you to conclude your talk or presentation.
Understanding body gestures helps you to better influence others, communicate more effectively and be more successful in your business dealings. By observing their body and face gestures, you can decide what is the best approach to take and the more useful words and phrases to use. With face gestures, you can see their response to you by the way they move their eyebrows or where their eyes are looking. A wealth on information can be found in face gestures and you’ll succeed better and faster when you recongise what they mean.
Face Gestures Examples
There are far too many face gestures to cover here and adjusting one part of the face while keeping another part still can take face gestures from one meaning to another in an instant. However, we can consider a few generalisations to illustrate the most common ones. Let’s look at particular parts of the face and how different positions mean different things.
Lowered brows correspond to an assertive, dominant, angry, annoyance, or threatening emotion whereas raised brows correspond to submissive behaviour or indicating openness as well as showing emotions of fear or surprise.
People usually look upwards when they’re thinking. Looking up and to the left indicates they’re recalling a memory, some experience or an event that has happened. Looking up and to the right indicates the person is using his imagination and creativity. In some cases, this can signal that someone is lying. However, these eye movements are for the general population and there are some individuals who have this reversed. It’s always important to ask a few questions to establish which movement corresponds to which meaning.
Face gestures where the eyes are looking down can show submission, guilt, or shame. This is usually accompanied by tilting the head downward. But when one is tilting his head upward and looking down, this can reflect dominance.
Squinting or narrowing one’s eyes shows that the person is considering whether or not what they’ve just been told is true or not. It indicates uncertainty or tiredness. It can also indicate that the sun is really bright so make sure you take the face gesture in context before concluding what the individual is communicating!
While blinking is a natural body response, it becomes one of the face gestures when the rate of blinking increases. This may indicate stress, lying, or surprise.
Winking is one of the face gestures that is conscious and is not done by accident. It suggests a greeting or non verbal way to communicate to another that you “get it” when others around you don’t.
Just as in the example at the beginning of this article, we’re able to control our smile even when we’re not feeling happy. The mouth is also capable of changing our face gestures and instantly communicate how we’re feeling – or how we’d like others to perceive how we feel. Aside from smiling, the mouth can show surprise and astonishment when gaping open and show displeasure or disgust by sneering (raising one corner of the upper lip). Biting one side of the lower lip shows uncertainty or that one is thinking through a decision. Pulling down the corners of the mouth is, of course, a frown and pursing ones lips which is to contract one’s lips demonstrates anger, frustration, annoyance.
A great place to see different kinds of facial expressions is Do 2 Learn. This is a really interesting interactive visual that allows you to experiment with different parts of the character’s face by clicking on buttons that correspond to various face gestures. This clearly demonstrates a wide variety of emotions even when changing only the brows.