Use your facial expressions to come across with more confidence
Last week I took my dog to the vet (that’s my dog in the photo).
While the vet was explaining what the problem was, I sensed something didn’t add up. In my mind I couldn’t help questioning what the vet was saying. Why was I doing that? Why should I question an expert? It’s not something I’d normally do.
To me, the vet just didn’t seem confident about the diagnosis… even though everything she said made sense. Why was that?
It was all about how she looked. I detected something very subtle about her facial expressions.
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So what was the vet doing to communicate doubt to me? Put simply, her microexpressions were confusing me. They didn’t match her verbal message. Subtle things she was doing made a difference – things like the amount she blinked, the way she didn’t quite look me in the eye and her slight frown probably all came into it.
A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression. It matches the emotions the person is experiencing while they’re talking. Unlike regular prolonged facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression. That’s why it can give your true feelings away. That’s exactly what happened with the vet.
She actually sensed my concern (probably by my facial expression!) and asked her colleague to give a second opinion.
The human face can be incredibly expressive. It can communicate countless emotions without even saying a word. There are generally acknowledged to be seven universal microexpressions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, happiness and surprise. They can happen in as fast as one fifteenth to one twenty fifth of a second.
The Science of People gives a handy explanation of the actual facial expressions you detect when you perceive each one of these universal microexpressions.
Nicholas Rule, associate professor of Psychology at Toronto University has done some fascinating studies on facial expressions. In one he presented undergraduates with unidentified headshots of CEOs from the top and bottom 25 companies on the 2006 Fortune 500.
His paper ‘The Face of Success: Inferences From Chief Executive Officers’ Appearance Predict Company Profits’ explains how undergraduates were asked to rank the faces of the CEO’s on a series of subjective qualities, such as competence and likability. The results prove that facial expressions really do matter.
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Facial expressions can help you come across with confidence
Try thinking for a moment about how much a person can convey with just a facial expression. For instance a frown can signal dislike or confusion, whereas a smile can indicate approval or understanding. And don’t forget of course that sometimes, your facial expressions can reveal your true feelings about something without you realising. During a meeting you might say you’re happy and you understand what to do, but the look on your face may tell people otherwise.
Try watching people you know who are good at speaking in public – look carefully at their facial expressions – simple actions like a raised eyebrow, a smile or just a sideways glance can make a huge difference to the message they want to send out. These facial expressions also send out messages about how the person is feeling. If you think about it, an expressive person tends normally to be perceived by others as a person who has self confidence. Why? Because they look relaxed and comfortable in the environment, even when they’re under pressure.
So facial expressions do matter. They really can help you to come across with more self confidence. Being expressive and using your face to maximum advantage is an essential part of good body language. It helps you to clarify your message, use less words and communicate your emotion. If you detect that you’re engaging the group well at a meeting or during a presentation, you’ll start to feel more in control and more confident about yourself.
Don’t forget too to watch out for any negative facial expressions you may be making. My questionnaire ‘What’s My Communication Style’ should help you to do this. Some people naturally have a rather dead-pan expression which others may read to indicate insensitivity or disinterest – whereas in fact it means nothing of the sort. It’s just the impression the person gives through their natural expression. Bear this in mind if it’s true of you and think about using your facial expressions to give a more positive message.
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