24 Aug

We are all human, it is easy to become consumed by emotions. Whether it be anger, happiness or fear we all succumb to these emotions at one point or another. When it comes to the workplace, it can be increasingly difficult but also important to be able to filter these emotions, and prevent the true feelings from being blatantly obvious. Understanding emotions and their facial cues can not only help to control your own tell-tail signs, but also help you to understand the signs others are subconsciously giving you.

Understanding Emotions

Most social scientists agree that there are seven emotional expressions that are basic to every culture. The thing to keep in mind is that our face is often displaying more than one emotion at a time, so we will witness things like a person smiling although their eyes are sad.

According to Dr. Paul Ekman, a renowned psychologist, we can teach people to recognize these emotions (as well as hidden emotions) by carefully reading what is shown on someone’s face. The seven emotions and their telltale signs are below.

Sadness
Sadness comes with a set of identifiable marks where the eyebrows are drawn upwards in the middle and curve down toward the end. There is also a slight vertical furrow between the eyes. Taken together, this is called Darwin’s grief muscle. The mouth points downward similarly, with the outside corners of the mouth pointing downward.

Anger
When we are angry, we often press our lips together so hard that the upper lip almost disappears. The eyes may widen across the upper eyelids, which the lower eyelids are contracted. The inner corners of the eyebrows pull downward, and there is often enough pressure there to create a furrowed brow.

Fear
In fear, a scared person’s eyebrows may be close to horizontal, and wrinkles in evidence across the forehead. Similar to anger, people who are frightened may open the upper eyelid more widely and show more of the whites of their eyes, while the corners of their mouths pull the lips into a horizontal line.

Happiness
Happiness is generally accompanied by rising cheeks, and we describe the accompanying smile as going up to someone’s eyes when the muscles around the eyes tighten (hence the way that smile lines lead to permanent lines around the eyes). Authentic smiles, also called a Duchenne smile, were first described by French neurologist Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne de Boulogne. They are characterized by those eye wrinkles, whereas a phony or forced smile is missing those characteristic smile lines.

Surprise
Raised upper eyelids, in addition to exposing additional whites of the eye, often accompany surprise. The mouth or jaw may also open as a part of the response.

Contempt
Is anyone rolling their eyes at you? This gesture is quite common in expressions of contempt, in addition to the left corner of the lip being pulled out asymmetrically, creating a dimple.

Disgust
People who are feeling disgusted may wrinkle their nose as they might to a bad smell, and/or generate wrinkles at the top of the nose between their eyes. The upper lip may also be raised.

What Do Emotions Tell Us?

Emotion

What It Tells Us

Sadness Lost something of value
Anger Way is blocked or get out of my way
Fear Possible threat – be prepared
Happiness Gained something of value, the way is safe
Surprise Something unexpected happened
Contempt Not worthy of care, hardening of feelings
Disgust Rules are violated

Applying Emotional Intelligence

Emotional expressions don’t tell us the cause that prompts the response. You have to take into account the situation in which the emotion was expressed and how your own emotions affect the situation in order to understand it. As you try to understand emotions that you witness, it is important to remember that emotions in themselves are neither positive nor negative; it is what we do with the emotion that creates the outcome.

Would you like to learn more about emotional cues, take a look at our training course Emotional Intelligence.