Writing & Communication

What Does Your Face Say?

The second in a series of blog posts

on Interpersonal Communication and Relationships.


So, this happened a couple of weeks ago…

I was speaking at a women’s event. A few dozen beautiful faces gazed back at me as I expounded upon the healing power of Jesus in the gospel of Mark, chapter 5. Most of the ladies seemed attentive enough. Some were even smiling. They laughed when I hoped they would laugh and gave sympathetic groans when I shared some of the more gritty parts. But one woman near the back of the room kept on catching my attention. Her face was open. Her eyes were wide and bright, and they never wandered from me. Her smile was broad. She nodded enthusiastically throughout my talk, and I’m pretty sure she even uttered supportive words like “yes” and “that’s right.” I was so buoyed by her nonverbal communication that, after the session, I caught her completely off guard and told her so.

Similarly, the following happened. Not recently—rather, several years ago—but it stuck…

I was talking with a pastor in our community. He shook my hand in the lobby after church and asked how our family was. I didn’t intend to answer long, but I thought I should at least answer honestly. He was a pastor, after all. And Peter and I and the kids—we were going through some stuff. I didn’t know this man well, so self-disclosing at all involved some significant risk. But as I began to share, his eyes quickly left my face and started scanning the crowd. He seemed to be looking for an “out,” so I gave it to him. I simply stopped mid-sentence. We said polite “good-byes,” and he moved on to someone else. I just stood there, feeling the sting, and it stayed with me.

Lest I become a proverbial pot calling the kettle black, let me also say that the following happened—just minutes ago…

My kids and I were in the kitchen. I was staring at the ground, thinking through our day, deciding when to make this post, sucked up into my own head. Then, my ten-year-old told me, “Mom, you look upset. Are you okay? Your face looks like this.” And he furrowed his brows and aimed his eyes like lasers at the floor.

We talk a lot about communication in our house—verbal and nonverbal alike—and I may have created a monster. He comments continuously on my face.

Although it can get a bit irksome to have a running commentary on your own nonverbal communication, I’m still inclined to err on the side of awareness with our kids—because what we say with our face and our eyes speaks volumes. I want them to know that now and hopefully develop more effective habits than I did as a kid.

My own mom’s facial expressions too often communicated anxiety and pain—and even disgust. I don’t think she always felt those things—at least not consciously—but as a child, that’s what I assumed and absorbed. And she was, for many years, my main model.

So here are a few truths about our face. Here’s why it’s so important to pay attention to what it’s doing, what it’s saying, the messages it’s sending to everyone we see and everyone who sees us.

  • Our facial expression often reveals our true emotions.

Sometimes our face enhances our words, and we’re golden. But other times our face contradicts our words, and we confuse our listener. When this happens, the receiver of our communication will likely—often unconsciously—assess the nonverbal message to be the true one. Face trumps words.

  • Our face often sends messages that we don’t intend—especially when we’re not consciously controlling it.

We call it our “resting face”—the expression our face falls to when we think we’ve turned it “off.” That just isn’t possible though. When it comes to communication—there is no such thing as “neutral.” Our face is always saying something, and without our even trying, it can make a surprisingly strong impression.

  • Eye contact is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

Eye contact says, “I value you. I see you. I care. You are important to me—more important than all of the other things I could look at. You are worth my time and attention.” Eye contact ministers to our hearts. Eye contact is love. One of the simple, but great, goals I’ve given myself is to stop what I’m doing and look straight at my kids when they come to me.

So, that’s our communication challenge for this week.

We have 43 muscles in our face alone—a small army of communication tools at our disposal.

Are we using them to their greatest effect?

1 thought on “What Does Your Face Say?

  1. My facial expressions get me in trouble fairly regularly. Just a few days ago I unintentionally gave the clerk at the grocery store a look that said something to him when I was really thinking about my Thanksgiving menu. My face said something else to him, though! Thankfully he was very friendly and we straightened it out. This is a great reminder to give my full attention to those I’m speaking with and to not give my face opportunity to wander. Thank you!

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