Reading the Faces of Business

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

Would you be better off if you could accurately read the faces of your customers, clients, even bosses and associates?  The answer is obvious.  The more easily you can read others’ emotions, the more comfortable you’ll be with your own authentic feelings.  Reading others’ faces more accurately allows you to gauge what feelings would be appropriate to share in any given setting, whether it involves sales, managing others or working as a team.  Remember, it’s not being authentic with your feelings regardless of the context.  Rather, it’s being sensitive to the context and then choosing how to share your authentic feelings sensibly and appropriately.  That fine distinction makes all the difference.

Let’s look at some research on emotional communication.  Charles Darwin focused on two basic emotions when he studied animals across the board—smiling approval and frowning disapproval. More recently, scientists have come up with about a half-dozen basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise.  (That’s not too far from Dr. Seuss’ analysis:  glad, sad, mad and bad.)  Some emotions, such as a smile indicating happiness, can be faked and often is, in the effort to provide a social lubricant when things get tense, or even as a polite demeanor in the absence of any true emotion.  Paul Ekman, guru of emotional recognition, has been able to distinguish between the two.  In the false smile, the eye areas are not engaged, the smile is less symmetrical and may disappear relatively suddenly.  But many of us—at least those without emotional intelligence—can hardly detect the difference since it is so subtle in appearance.

But anyone with access to the workings of the brain would see a significant difference.  When deception takes place, different parts of the brain are activated.  Lying is an effortful process involving much activity in the thinking prefrontal cortex of course but also emotional activity in the limbic system, much more so than someone being truthful about something, who doesn’t have to work so hard at keeping in mind two sets of data—the truth and the lie.  When lying takes place, says Scott H. Faro, Director of Temple University’s Functional Brain Imaging Center, “there is not just one center in the brain.  Multiple areas are interacting.  There’s more activity and more interactions that occur during a lie than in truth telling.”

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