The Importance of Facial Expressions When Communicating

Eye contact is particularly important when communicating with our partner.

We all know that nonverbal communication is always happening. We communicate nonverbally with our tone of voice, facial expressions, touch, eye contact, etc.

Often times, the message we are communicating nonverbally contradicts what we are verbally expressing. Other times, we are unconscious to what we are expressing nonverbally. In most cases, our partner will usually pick up on – and believe – the nonverbal communication since it is more difficult to conceal what we are feeling nonverbally.

If you caught my earlier post on eye gazing, you know that eye contact can provide important emotional information. Perhaps without consciously doing so, we search each other’s eyes for positive or negative mood signs – and in many cases the meeting of the eyes arouses strong emotions.

It’s easy to know when someone is tired, afraid, angry, happy, interested, sad or frustrated by looking into their eyes. The better we get at recognizing and reading our partner’s facial expressions, the more aware and connected we are to each other. Paul Ekman devoted his life to studying the face and its emotions. He actually created a coding system that described the motions of over 46 facial actions and interpreted those facial movements to understand human emotions.

Recently, my girlfriend and I have started paying more attention not to just what’s being spoken, but also to facial expressions and particularly eye contact. One day, she pointed out that my facial expression looked angry or mean. I decided to try and be more mindful and consciously soften and warm up my eyes whenever speaking to her. I asked her for feedback and she told me I looked more loving – and more importantly, she felt more loving toward me. 

Two exercises to help you put it in practice:

1. Over the next week, practice creating a facial expression, particularly around the eyes, that is soft, warm and loving when you speak to your partner. Do this throughout the next week until it becomes more natural and then ask your partner for feedback to see if they noticed a difference.

2. Practice with each other expressing a feeling using only your facial expression – and then have your partner try to guess what feeling your trying to express. For example, try to express the emotion of sadness and let your partner guess what feeling you’re trying to express. If she guesses correctly, she gets one point and than it’s her turn to try to express an emotion without speaking and you try to guess. Whoever gets five points first wins. If you want to step it up a bit, try using only your eyes. Cover the rest of your face with something like a piece of paper.  

Have fun, and let me know how it goes!