Facial Expressions are More Important than Ever

Montage of Facial Expressions

Facial expressions say a lot, which is why face to face communication has always been important.  When traveling culture to culture, it’s natural to study facial expressions and to surmise what others are thinking or feeling.  A lifted brow or glance that darts away is always read as a signal. 

It turns out that in the virtual world of work the same rule is wise to follow.  What we communicate nonverbally via facial expressions are being read by others.  Knowing this, we make sure not to touch our mouth, face, or head, and we avoid fidgeting. 

As we continue to conduct business in a video-centric environment, more attention is being given to nonverbal communication and its various aspects.  Which begs the crucial question – do you know what your face is telling other people?

Making an Impression

Historically, in 1897, Charles Darwin was the first to formally study nonverbal cues, and was first to examine the expression of emotions through facial cues and gestures. The research tradition continues in working to understand the relationship of nonverbal language and the accuracy of judgments of emotion and personality.  Latest research, “Contributions of Nonverbal Cues to the Accurate Judgment of Personality Traits,” reveals that facial expressions and other nonverbal behavior contribute to the accuracy of personality judgments. 

Recognizing the reality that we create and seal as impressions in others’ minds can serve to remind us that giving full attention when someone is talking is a guideline of etiquette and recognizably polite behavior.

In the icebreaker phase of a recent teleconference meeting, a participant shared an experience that left a vivid impression:
“I thought I was in my practice Zoom window, using the screen as a mirror, checking my make-up, hair, teeth.  But alas, I wasn’t there!  I had clicked on the “view in video” phase on my scheduled meeting. Yes, others were watching me primp.  It is now a long-standing joke with this particular group.  And of course, I always smile and let myself enjoy the teasing, as I do want to leave a good impression of myself.” 

We’re doing our best to engage and be present and we want to “show up,” even when we have an email or contract to finish, so listening tangentially may be tempting.  Some people report wanting to mask the fact that they are in and out in “face only,” with an occasional smile at the videocam as others are talking or screen sharing.  However, we can’t help but wonder if keen eyes are able to see the faking.

Showing Your Presence with Facial Expressions

Here is a creative way to bring oneself back to a state of being present in the here and now when we are engaging in tele-meeting mode.

  • Imagine that you are an impartial spectator, watching what you were actually doing during a video conference.  The sense of having a wise and kind self brings you back into alignment with how you want to be seen, assessing yourself from within and judging your conduct by imagining what you would feel if you saw yourself as a spectator of your own action.  

Other tips for showing up facially ready:

  • Stay focused on letting your face be natural and open and pleasant.
  • Take deep slow breaths often and smile inside knowing you are doing your best in staying with the meeting.  
  • Avoid random gestures of touching your face or hair. 
  • When you look at the web cam, remember there is an audience there, face to face with you. 

In the very first televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, voters were reportedly influenced by the future President Kennedy because he, unlike his opponent, looked directly into the camera with pleasant facial expressions, and he was read as focused and sincere with definite leadership qualities.  The appearance of being present counts!

Having a “poker face” might work when playing cards, but whatever leadership role you play in your organization, remaining focused and aware that your face is being read, might help you in being deliberately present and openly available. 

Remember, everyone is watching!

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