Universal Face Expressions by Chris Redding

There are six universal facial expressions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust. They look the same in all cultures.

Think about when you are sad. You may be at work and don’t want to talk about it, but you will probably convey the emotion anyway. You may cry in the bathroom. Your posture will not be so good. You turn inward physically.

“Consistent multi-channeled messages communicate honesty, sincerity, believability and accuracy because each additional behavior strengthens and reinforces the overall message.” Peter A. Anderson, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Body Language.


In other words, we communicate in more than one way and all channels should be saying the same thing.

There is redundancy in the systems. We say we are sad. We cry. We hold ourselves. All point to the same emotion and having the body language there lends credibility. If someone announced they were sad, but his body language said he was happy, we would not believe him.

My husband has befriended two different salesmen over his career. Both are very different from him. Both are very successful at what they do. Both know how to say all the right things. J1, if you watch him closely, does not back up what he says with his body language. His comments seem tossed out. He doesn’t make eye contact.

J2 has ADD and with that comes laser focus when you want it. It’s why he is good at what he does. Having been the object of the laser focus, I know for a fact, he comes off as sincere. There is no guile. He is an open book.  He faces you. He looks you in the eye.

Because of its spontaneity, body language is hard to fake. As I said above, if the clues don’t match, we are suspicious. Also, because it is spontaneous, it is more likely to reflect underlying feelings. The reaction is more likely to be off the cuff and true to his thoughts or emotions.


Verbal communication is open to manipulation. Non-verbal communication is not.

“Body language is your primary mode of communication, primary in the evolutionary history of the human species, and primary in your life.” The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Body Language.


Body language is more basic than the spoken word.

Animals are great at reading body language. I’m not exactly a calm person and when I pick up one of our rabbits, I need to chill before I do it. Our female responds well to my husband because he’s naturally a steadier person.

A few weeks after my father died, I was still kind of bumping into walls. I thought I was fine, but my dog was glued to my side. He knew I wasn’t right when I refused to admit it.

The human body is able to function well on autopilot. Think back to this morning. Do you really remember brushing your teeth? You know you did, but do you REALLY know you did? Body language is part of that autopilot, otherwise it would be stilted.


Non-verbal communication encompasses all parts of your body.

Your eyes are the primary way you receive body language cues and usually the primary way you send it. You invite someone to communicate by making eye contact. I know this because EVERYONE talks to me at the grocery store. I make eye contact without really meaning to.

If they eye contact is longer than a second, the two people begin to make a connection. Immediacy behaviors, like prolonged eye contact, signal availability. Eye contact is powerful that way.

Besides the obvious body language, there are also more subtle versions.  Your pupils dilate because of lack of light, but also for things you find attractive.  I’m happily married, but there is this medic I see once in a while and he’s the cutest thing. He’s thin and nerdy and really smart. I’m sure my pupils dilate when I see him.

The reverse is also true. Our pupils constrict when we see something we don’t like. We react to that on an unconscious level.

Eye contact controls interaction. If you don’t make eye contact, you don’t send out an invite for someone to interact with you. One symptom of Asperger’s is not making eye contact. It isn’t because they don’t want to interact, they just don’t think about it. They don’t need you to make eye contact for them to interact with you.

Looking at someone can signal it is there turn to speak. Looking at someone the right way can get them to stop speaking. Moms do this all the time to their children.



We hold certain beliefs to be true. What is beautiful is good. Anyone who has ever been picked on by the pretty, popular girl knows this isn’t always true.

I belonged to a writer’s group for ten years. There was a woman there who never smiled. Never. She didn’t seem to be particularly morose when you talked to her, but I found her very tough to deal with. That lack of smile colored all my interactions with her. I look back now and realize she may have had Asperger’s. Sometimes they don’t show any facial expressions.

There are a lot of facial expressions that are universal. Think of a smile. We see them in all the National Geographic photos. The only thing different among cultures is where, when and how to show emotion.

Most people initially judge people by how they look. I deal with an instructor at work who is kind of dumpy looking. My knee-jerk reaction when I first met her was that she was one of those people who tried to skirt the system. A personal pet peeve of mine.

She isn’t. She is one of the sweetest people and one of my most reliable instructors.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve been taught differently or tried to teach our kids differently. We do still form some opinions by how people look. We think more attractive people have better personalities and are nicer. Just watch one episode of Bad Girls to know that isn’t true. We think bigger more attractive men make better leaders. There are many presidents that prove that wrong.

The halo effect means we assume attractive people have other good qualities, too. The advertising industry takes advantage of this. Supermodels tell us what beer to drink or what underwear to wear. See if you can find an ugly person reading television news.

Greta Van Susteren felt she needed to plastic surgery to keep her job.

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