Read My Body Language – Facial Expressions

I love you (American Sign Language) - 1

“Don’t read my lips.”

Most of us have likely heard, or even used, the famous expression, “read my lips” when we what someone to understand what we’re saying. The lips alone do not convey how a person feels.

Facial expressions can be ambiguous and subjective when viewed independently.

Did you know that facial expressions are learned from one’s family and culture? Researchers have done studies that show that families have inherited characteristic facial expressions.

There are, however, universal facial expressions. Understanding these, along with other body positions, will help with nonverbal communication at work.

Universal Facial Expressions

Happiness: More than a smile is needed to indicate happiness. Genuine happiness should include the eyes. Eyelids crinkle and crow’s feet become visible.

Anger: A frown typically accompanies anger. Additionally, the eyes narrow, the chin points forward, and the eyebrows furrow.

Fear: Wide eyes and slightly raised eyebrows signal fear. The lips may be parted or stretched when the mouth is closed.

Surprise: Surprise is similar to fear. The eyebrows are fully raised and the eyes are wide with surprise. The mouth, however, is usually open.

Sadness: The mouth turns down when someone is sad. A crease in the forehead and quivering chin accompanies this slight frown.

Disgust: The expression of disgust includes the nose. The nose wrinkles, the lips part, and the eyes narrow.

Note:  Contempt is not always a universally recognized facial expression. It is useful to recognize, however, and includes a sneer with the side of the mouth elevated.

Forced Smiles

A forced smile does not reach the eyes. Alone, a forced smile can simply indicate that someone is trying to be polite.

Always pay close attention when other deceptive movement clusters accompany a forced smile, as they can add additional proof that a person could be lying.


Tight smiles: A tight, thin-lipped smile can indicate that someone is concealing information.

Closed mouth: Genuine smiles are typically open. A closed smile, however, could be an effort to hide bad teeth.

Licking lips: Lying can cause the mouth to dry out. People who lie are more likely to lick their lips after speaking.

We all hide negative or unwanted emotions from time to time. We can even mask our facial expressions to fit social situations.

Facial expressions are an important part of body language. Understanding the basics of facial expressions and decoding them will help you determine what people are feeling and facilitate better communication.

Words from the Wise

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter F. Drucker

Find out more in the first 3 installments of this series: Head Position, Hands Speak. and The Eyes Have It.