Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Body Language and Facial Expressions
Unless you're a spy for a foreign country, you probably have never taken a formal course on how to have expert control over your nonverbal communication, or body language. Maybe you will want to, however, after you've learned just how important body language can be in reading someone's message and how much it can truly "give away" one's real feelings and emotions on a subject.
It would be handy to have this basic information when conversing with others. Imagine being able to tell when your partner is interested in what you're saying, open to ideas you have, distracted by other things, or completely bored! That kind of power in a conversation is rarely seen (except by moms and teachers catching children doing mischievous things around the world). If you had insight as to some of the habits of body language and the accompanying facial expressions that are used, you could know the secret language of nonverbal communication. It's almost magic!
During research on body language, people who have had their communication videotaped during various conversations have been shocked to find that they will sometimes accompany a statement with a negative indication through their body language. For example, they might say "yes" with their words, and unconsciously shake their head "no" at the exact same time. Which message is the one they are trying to send? Researchers suggest that while these instances communicate one message consciously, there is always another more subtle message that may enhance, emphasize, or disagree with the spoken statement.
If you're a public speaker, or even just in a casual conversation, your character while communicating will be judged largely by your facial expressions while you talk. Take the simple gesture of a wink, for example. When someone winks at you, it can either evoke a comfortable, warm, friendly feeling or a creepy, lecherous, icky feeling, depending on the facial expression and statements that accompany it. The expressions of the eyes play an enormous role in how our message is received by others.
It has been said the eyes are the windows to our soul. No other part of your facial expression is more important to communicate sincerity and credibility. Making eye contact is one of the most important elements in genuinely sincere conversation. However, as we all know, you don't want to feel like someone is staring you down! Constant eye contact can feel forced or unwelcome and actually do more harm to your message than good.
Effective speakers will engage one individual at a time in eye contact, make a statement clearly, watch for a response, and move on. This practice can put a high amount of energy and enthusiasm into a speaker's presentation, making them seem lively and passionate about their message. Making eye contact on occasion can also insert brief pauses into your side of the conversation. These natural pauses to occasionally sweep the audience with eye focus also encourage audience participation, attentiveness, and allow the topic to really "sink in." The movement of your eyes in conjunction with your mouth and facial muscles can build a connection with the person you're talking to. For example, have you ever gotten the feeling that someone was a trustworthy person after meeting them briefly for the first time? You might have felt this connection with them because of the way their speech was punctuated with pleasant facial expressions or a bright smile. People will judge your communication based in part on the use of your nonverbal cues, so it's important to know what the signals are and how to properly incorporate them into your everyday communication.
However, any facial expression can be taken to the extreme. If you're purchasing a car, for example, and the salesperson has a goofy grin locked onto his face, you're not going to take that person very seriously and will probably leave without buying the car he's selling. There's just something we humans don't trust about a person that smiles too much. Maybe it means they have something to hide or they aren't being exactly honest with us.
Many fear speaking in a group, or may be hesitant to even talk one-on-one! Your nervousness is going to show through in your facial expressions if you aren't careful. Under the pressure of public speaking, many people simply find themselves blank-faced with no facial expression whatsoever. This type of stone statue body language might send the wrong impression that you either don't care much for your subject, or worse yet, your audience!
Try to unfreeze your face when you're speaking by making an initial smile, or raising your eyebrows after the person you're talking with has made an interesting point. Nod your head, furrow your eyebrows; just do something to make sure your face doesn't solidify into a non-existent expression or what I like to call a NONVERBAL LOCKDOWN. Practice makes perfect when learning to control your facial expressions during a conversation, so take a look in the mirror or use a buddy to help you work on yours. You'll feel more confident and project that confidence in no time!