You’re talking to a co-worker about your last successful campaign and you notice the corners of their mouth tighten and shift downward. They tilt their head and their eyebrows come together just a little. Suddenly, you realize that maybe they haven’t been doing so well. You ask if they are doing well or if they need anything and suddenly, their face relaxes and their eyes widen with interest. They tell you they’ve actually been struggling and could use some advice from someone like you.
Congratulations, you’re a face-reader.
No, not a mind-reader; a face-reader. Reading faces is a valuable skill not only in the working world but in every day life. Being able to guess what a person is thinking simply be reading the small gestures (often called micro-expressions) on a person’s face helps you navigate your way to the top of the dog pile by being more empathetic. You’re not a mind-reader, but you’re the next best thing.
There are four parts of the face to pay attention to when you are trying to read a person.
1. The eyes. Pupils dilate and become large when a person is legitimately interested in what you have to say. However, if they are angry or they think they’ve perceived something offensive, the pupils become very small and focus intently on the subject of their anger: you. If the other person’s eyes narrow or squint, they think you’re being dishonest, so it’s best to clarify what you’ve just said. And finally, eyes that can’t focus, that dart here and there signify discomfort and distraction. Get them to focus on you again and sell your point!
2. The lips. A person will purse or tighten their lips into a hard, straight line when they are on the defensive. They are frustrated or they disagree with something that’s been said. In the opposite direction, a person who puckers their lips, or bites them, in any way drawing attention to their mouth is feeling unsure or vulnerable. In this case, it’s best to be comforting and reassuring but establishing your dominance. Be the leader and do it now! A person whose lips twitch is hiding something. They might be lying and trying to hide their pleasure with themselves by suppressing a smile. Call them out.
3. The nose. The nose doesn’t move as much as the lips or eyes, but it still has a lot to say. A reddened nose indicates increased blood-flow and simply means the person is lying and unsure of what they are saying. When a person’s nose is flared, meaning the nostrils are wide, they are clearly angry or annoyed. Generally, when the nose is crinkled as if the person smells something bad, it’s because they are contemptuous and have disdain for you or what you’ve said. Time to put on the charm!
4. The eyebrows. If you’ve ever seen a silent movie, you know how much emotion we can convey just by raising or pulling together your eyebrows. High brows show fear, surprise, or interest. Eyebrows that are lowered and form several wrinkles on the forehead can either mean anger or intense concentration. And last, if you notice the eyebrows are lop-sided with one raised and one lowered, it usually indicates the person is confused or uncertain. It’s best then to assuage their fears and sound more confident.
While gestures can change with a person’s upbringing or their cultural background, facial expressions linked to emotions are universal. Disgust, surprise, fear, and love look the same in one part of the world as another. Mastering the ability to read subtle and overt facial expressions will make you a master at communication and negotiation and a valuable company asset.