Did you know there are various ways to detect when someone’s lying to you? Research by Business Insider claims that when you lie you end up closing your eyes for longer than a second.

The hit TV show Lie to Me was inspired by American Psychologist Paul Ekman’s study of facial expressions and emotions. The main character, Cal Lightman, is based on Professor Ekman himself. Lightman studies nonverbal behavior to solve crimes—judging emotions, reactions and micro-expressions.

Nonverbal behavior is one of the key aspects of communication. Although we pay more attention to our words, it’s really nonverbal cues like body language that conveys the speaker’s intent.

Find out how your facial expression can affect communication in the workplace.

  1. Facial Expression In Communication

  2. Facial Expressions In Non Verbal Communication

  3. Interpreting Your Audience’s Facial Expressions

  4. How Studying Facial Expressions Can Improve Your Professional Life

Facial Expression In Communication

According to Paul Ekman’s study, there are seven universal emotions:

  • Happiness

  • Sadness

  • Fear

  • Disgust

  • Anger

  • Contempt

  • Surprise

Each of these emotions has its own set of facial expressions that can be observed in people. It varies from person to person, even cultures. At home or at work, you’ll find that people act and behave differently.

In the workplace, we’re required to communicate on a daily basis. Whether it’s written or spoken communication, as professionals we have to get our point across with brevity and clarity.

When you’re talking to your coworker or giving a presentation, your movements, gestures and facial expression say a lot about you. It’s not just the content of what you’re saying or presenting, it’s the way you say it. For instance, if you have a sullen, unexcited look on your face while making a speech, the audience will find it uncomfortable.

You can’t expect to talk about something funny or dramatic with a deadpan expression. Emotions add value and meaning to your words. Your gestures, facial expression and body language supplement your verbal communication.

Raising your eyebrows or rolling your eyes at someone at work has as much impact as cursing—maybe even more. Facial expression in communication is the most visible form of your emotions. The listener can easily gauge what you’re feeling from whether you have a smile or a frown on your face. If you seem distracted, they’ll know that something’s bothering you. So, you should try to align your words with your facial expression and body language.

Facial Expressions In Nonverbal Communication

Paul Ekman wrote, “Smiles are probably the most underrated facial expressions, much more complicated than most people realize. There are dozens of smiles, each differing in appearance and in the message expressed.”

Every person you meet will have something unique about them; from the way they smile to the way they move their hands. In a professional setting, you must focus on facial expressions in nonverbal communication. If you’re meeting your manager, you have to make sure you look prepared, alert and focused—you can’t appear too excited or too dull. Saying you’re excited about a new project must also reflect on your face.

Here are some key elements of facial expressions in nonverbal communication with examples:

  1. Always match your facial expression with your words—during a presentation, you should appear prepared about what you’re saying.

  2. Recognizing facial expressions is a helpful skill in the workplace—if your coworker appears tired and insists on taking on more work, you can help them by lending a hand.

  3. Your facial expression should act as proof of your words—telling your manager that you’re confident about your work but shaking your head at the same time contradicts your claim.

Interpreting Your Audience’s Facial Expressions

Communication is an effective exchange of ideas, words and thoughts. For successful communication, all parties involved should understand the intent and meaning of the topic being discussed.

If you’re in the audience, for instance, the speaker should convey their intention with their words and expressions. But if you’re the speaker, it’s your responsibility to judge the audience’s reactions to your words.

Here are some ways to speak like an expert to engage your audience:

  1. Speak Clearly And Concisely

Your words must be clear, brief and to the point. If you’re talking about a particular topic, try not to change directions or confuse the audience by bringing in something unrelated. Short sentences will help you keep your audience engaged and they’ll find it easier to pay attention. Long sentences with complex words can put them off so choose lighthearted language, anecdotes and stories to keep them entertained. Open with a joke to break the ice!

  1. Match Your Body Language With Your Words

Your body language, facial expression and gestures should always match your words. If you appear bored, the audience will likely pick up on that and lose interest just as quickly. Try to show your enthusiasm for all the work you put into preparing for this day. This will show them that you’re sincere and believe in your message. If the audience can trust you, you’ll have a much easier time getting your point across.

  1. Be Friendly And Open

Your behavior will help your audience relate to you. If you seem friendly, honest and open, they’ll be drawn to you immediately. But if you appear closed-off with your arms crossed and without a smile on your face, it may negatively impact what you’re trying to achieve. Maintaining a balance between getting your point across and being friendly can do wonders for effective communication. It’s not every day that you get a chance to speak in front of a crowd, why not make it worthwhile!

  1. Maintain Eye Contact

Facial expressions reflect your emotions and how you’re feeling at the moment. There’s another aspect of nonverbal communication that’s equally important. Maintaining eye contact with members of the audience will help you connect with them. Even in that brief period where you’re speaking, you should try to build a rapport with the listeners. This way you’ll find it easier to make them understand your intentions.

  1. Claim The Stage

Instead of standing behind the podium, try to move around and make the stage your own. Make eye contact with the audience, use your hands to drive your point home and use slides to draw their attention. Nonverbal communication can really embellish your public speaking skills. You don’t just have to rely on reading words off a page, you can use many resources to your advantage. Most of all, your facial expression will tell them everything your words can’t so pay attention to how they react to your speech.

The impact of facial expressions in a professional space is much bigger than you’d think. Reading people and trying to get to the bottom of what they’re saying can diffuse tension, resolve conflicts and make it easier to work together. It’s just about paying attention, being self-aware and giving your time to others. Imagine if you could read people as well as Cal Lightman! Not only will you equip yourself with the ability to understand and empathize with others but also navigate conflicts at work.

How Studying Facial Expressions Can Improve Your Professional Life

There are several ways in which facial expression in communication can help you increase your workplace impact. It improves your speaking skills and accentuates your ability to convey meaningful messages.

Let’s see how you can benefit from reading and identifying facial expressions:

  • Facial expressions can convey more meaning than even the clearest and most accurate words

  • If you want to highlight certain parts of your speech, facial expressions can help you do that with ease

  • You can build a better rapport with your coworkers and become a reliable team member simply with a positive demeanor

  • You’ll learn to speak with more confidence and convey your message with brevity, accuracy and clarity

Ekman’s seven emotions may be universal, but facial expressions vary across cultures and groups. You start mimicking your coworker’s or friend’s facial expressions when you spend time with them. The thing about facial expressions is that they’re a dead giveaway of your true emotions. You can learn to control your emotions and expressions to make sure that you’re only conveying as much as you want to.

Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course will not only teach you how to speak with impact but also create a niche for yourself at work. With an entire module dedicated to nonverbal communication, you’ll learn about the importance of body language and other nonverbal cues. With assessments and reflective practices, you’ll become equipped at public speaking or communicating in the workplace.


Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics related to the COMMUNICATE Habit such as Understanding Body Language, What is Mirroring, Importance of Interpersonal Skills and learn how to speak with an impact.

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