We were 35,000 feet up in the air when the person sitting in the middle seat asked the flight attendant a simple question:
“Can I get a refill?”
Her water cup was empty and she wanted to stay hydrated. Before the flight attendant opened his mouth to speak, we could tell he was annoyed. His jaw was clenched and both eyebrows were raised.
“Really? You need more water? Fine!”
While neither of us were psychic we could have predicted that would be his response. We could see it just by judging his facial expression.
When people ask you a frustrating question or talk to you about a topic that gets you riled-up, it can show on your face. Be aware that in any conversation your nonverbal signs impact that interaction.
When a conversation makes you feel angry, your face may tighten up. Free the tension by slowing moving the muscles in your face (chin, forehead, mouth). Soften your bite and move your jaw. Lower your eyebrows, intentionally, so they are relaxed. If you are in private (taking a phone call) move your mouth as if you were chewing gum. If you are in person, try clenching and unclenching your toes, so it’s less obvious.
Focus on breathing in and out. You will find it’s a quick relaxation technique for your entire body, including your face. When oxygen flows through your body it can reduce your urge to show irritation or sound aggressive, and it can help you think with clarity.
According to M.G. Frank, in the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, the face is responsible for communicating not only thoughts or ideas, but also emotions. When your mind is circling around a negative thought, your face will instantly give off the impression that you’re upset. When people are speaking or asking you a question, think less about how their words are making you feel and more about why they are sharing these words. Change your thoughts and your facial expressions will align.
During interactions with others your face will reflect your true internal reaction. Relax your mouth, chin, and forehead, take deep breaths, and refocus your thoughts. That way, you’ll be able to respond in a calm and clear way with a facial expressions that match.
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