Communication – Nonverbal – Focus on Facial Cues.

The basic process of communication begins when a fact or idea is generated in the mind of an individual who wishes to share the idea across with someone else, s/he passes the idea over to someone else through a chosen media. The receiver on the other hand must be in a position to interpret the message received in the most accurate way and provide feedback to the sender indicating the message was well understood. Humans are emotional beings as well as social, our way of communicating the different emotions we feel are passed between us habitually by use of words, gestures, reactions, signs as well as symbols that express the emotions we feel.

Giving someone a bouquet of flowers communicates a message. Giving a compliment is another form of communication, blushing on the other side is yet another form of communication. Some of which we do knowingly while some occur unknowingly to us.

This article seeks to deliver clarity on what communication is, how it happens and ways one can obtain and decode information successfully. We shall subdivide communication into three categories for ease of understanding.

1. Written Communication

This involves any written information for purposes of communication, it is the most common form of communication used in business.

2. Verbal communication

This involves exchange of information by use of speech or in other words through spoken words.

3.  Nonverbal communication

These are wordless gestures and clues expressed through body reactions to express emotion experienced.

The definition to use to level while reading this article is “Communication is the act of transmitting (sending) and receiving (Obtaining) information between individuals”.

When we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless signals which go alongside the words uttered in support of the feeling being expressed.

All nonverbal cues, the gestures we make, the position we take when we sit, tempo or pitch of our tone, how close we stand, how much eye contact we give, send information to the people we interact with. This includes silence.

In some instances, what comes out verbally and the gestures that accompany the verbal convey clashing messages. It is important to note that verbal and nonverbal communication are related and supplement each other to help deliver clearer communication.

Invariably, when one is confronted by a clash of expressions, nonverbal cues tend to override the verbal. This is because nonverbal cues communicate our true inner feelings and are hard to conceal. It is thus correct to say that nonverbal cues are superior as they deliver more factual proof of the feeling within an individual, for example, when someone gives a word to imply they are fine, but their facial expression convey sadness, one tends to trust the nonverbal cue as opposed to the words conveyed.

When nonverbal cue compliment the words spoken, a more powerful and clear message is transmitted but when they don’t, a less powerful communication gets delivered, probably coupled with doubt or confusion of what is being communicated.

Nonverbal communication is such a large topic that I can’t cover at one go, this article will thus mark the first part in a series of articles yet to be shared with highlights on different nonverbal communication areas to watch.

I begin with shedding more light on facial cues in this first document. Those expressions that occur on the facial region accompanied by their most probable meaning. I say most probable because they can be staged or expressed to deceive, conceal or expressed as a habitual norm and not necessarily for purposes of communicating true idea. By the end of this article, you should be able to understand with clarity how the two complement each other in supporting the communicated idea.

It is necessary to have full focus and presence in whatever it is you’re doing in order to capture all the cues conveyed to accompany the spoken words. One needs to get the most out of the one-on-one conversations if they are to completely capture with accuracy everything packed in a single expression.

To become a better communicator, you must not only be good in in handling verbal communication (Speaking and Listening) but also in capturing and decoding as well as encoding and delivering the most appropriate and effective nonverbal cues.

Nonverbal communication cues play five major roles:

  • Affirm: They can be used to affirm the message being relayed verbally.
  • Contradiction: They can communicate contradiction in a message an individual wishes to convey.
  • Substitution: They can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person’s eyes can often convey a far more vivid message than words, i.e. continuous blinks or tearing
  • Complementing: They can add to or complement a verbal message. I.e. A person who pats another on the back in addition to giving verbal compliments can deliver higher impact of the message.
  • Accenting: They may emphasize a verbal message. Banging the table, for example accents a verbal point driven home.


Facial expressions

So you’re saying…

With 80 facial muscles, the face can communicate over 1000 facial expressions. Some expressions are adopted voluntarily while some involuntarily. It can be difficult to avoid facial expressions from certain emotions even when one is concealing them. Some expressions can be quite habitual and almost fixed into the chronic muscular structure of the face. Some of the universally recognized emotions conveyed through facial expressions are:

    • Happiness: round eyes, smile, raised cheeks
    • Sadness: raised inner eyebrows, pulling down of outer lips
    • Surprise: eyebrows raised, wide open eyes, open mouth
    • Anger: Lower eyebrow, intense stare
    • Fear: Raised eyebrows and eyelids, slightly opened mouth, lip edges stretched back horizontally
    • Contempt: Naturally occurs on one side of the face, pulling upper lip up and away
    • Disgust: wrinkled nose, lowered eyelids and eyebrows, raised upper lip

Our article focuses on key areas to watch out for highlighted below in the following sub divisions.

1. Hair tucking

The act of clearing hair strands away from the facial region and tucking them away suggests interest and implies removal of any distractions out of the way to give undivided attention to the subject at hand, while repetitive twisting and twirling of the hair strand ends implies boredom. See more in the diagram.


2. Eyebrows

Eyebrows are often used to express specific emotions, frowns, surprises, disbelief they are highly visible and stand out to an attentive person. Some of what they communicate with specific motions are-;

 a.       Eyebrows Lowered

Lowering the eyebrows obscures the eyes to a certain degree. When this is combined with a lowered head, deception is what comes to mind.

Lowered eyebrows may also indicate annoyance, perhaps effectively saying “I am so displeased”. It is mostly used by dominant persons.

 b.      Eyebrows Raised

When a person is surprised, their eyebrows often rise. This can happen with the widening of the eyes, perhaps to ensure nothing obscures vision. The greater the degree of the surprise, the higher the eyebrows rise. Opposite to the dominant lowering of eyebrows, raising eyebrows may be a submissive move or indicate openness, as it allows for clearer visibility by the eyes.

C.    Raising a single eyebrow

This is something only a few people can do and can be a bit wry in its meaning, for example showing cynicism or seeming to ask ‘Are you sure?’ when low confidence is exhibited in communication.

 d.      Eyebrows rise and fall

When we meet people we know, we often give a quick single rise and fall ‘eyebrow flash’ in recognition and/or in greeting. This is a common signal across primates, which includes monkeys and gorillas.

e.    Rapid and repeated rise and fall

Repeated rise and fall movements may be an exaggerated signal. Note that a genuine rise and fall lasts only a second and anything longer means something else.

3. Eyes

Eye contact is strongly influenced by social and cultural inclination. In the western civilizations, eye contact is most often defined as a sign of confidence. It’s not consistent among different religions, cultures and social backgrounds.  Eye contact can indicate how interested a person is in the communication taking place. It could also suggest trust and truthfulness. Often, when people are being untruthful, they tend to look away and avoid eye contact

In the business world, establishing eye contact reveals confidence. Evoking this confidence grants power to maintaining a respectable, authoritative, professional and competent allure. However, strong eye contact could portray one’s ignorance, arrogance, overconfidence and could as well be a sign of aggression depending on the accompanying cues observed.

Important aspects in a gaze:

  • Looking while talking: This establishes a rapport with the person listening.
  • Looking while listening: This reciprocates the rapport established.
  • Frequency of glance: This indicated involvement and how interested one is to the conversation.
  • Patterns of fixation: This provides evidence as to where the attention lies.
  • Pupil Dilation: This could often provide proof of interest and boredom.

To give proper eye contact evaluation, ask yourself the following questions; –

  1. Is there eye contact made?
  2. If so, is it overly intense or just right?

4. Lips

We feel better when someone smiles at us and vice versa when we do it in return. Smiling expresses love and yields better reception than pressed lips. Smile are magical in the human society and helps in winning people’s hearts over as well as drawing sympathy and favor. Why we smile at each other without training or compulsion is indeed both exciting and bizarre if we are to look deeper.

A good smile goes a long way in lighting up an individual. Quite instrumental in creating a good first impression as well as a positive atmosphere. This is exhibited typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed to convey the feeling of delight experienced inside.

When the mouth is agape, an expression of disbelief is communicated

Biting the lip and flirting; in some instances some people will bite their lip when flirting. This can be done to draw attention to a person.

Biting the lip can mean a few things when decoded:

  • Lying by the person
  • Withholding information
  • Nervousness
  • Anger or frustration
  • Thought process occurring
  • Flirting
  • Habitual

5. Tongue

A tongue tip flash can be used in a flirt situation or communicate abuse when it sticks out for more than a second as practiced by kids in their plays. The message conveyed is determined by the supportive cues delivered with it.

A tongue roll on the other hand portrays a naughty gesture or expression of tiredness when accompanied with a sigh.

A slow lip leak by the tongue is another gesture to express naughty thoughts or satisfaction when the leak is fast, it as well communicates anticipation, i.e. when food is served or when anticipating a kiss.

Find more tips below on reading body language cues.

Pay close attention to inconsistencies.

Nonverbal communication should reinforce whatever verbal expressions is being conveyed.

Is there consistence in their body language? Do the rest of the cues support what is suggested? For example, are they telling you “yes” while nodding their head from side to side?

For you to properly evaluate facial expression ask yourself the following questions – What facial expressions are visible? Is it inexpressive, is it full of emotions, does it portray presence or absence of interest? Is it supported by other body cues?

Note that tonal voice and pitch fall in this classification of nonverbal communication which conveys volumes alongside the message being voiced.

Tone of voice – Does the person’s voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?

Intensity – Does the person seem flat, cool, and disinterested, dramatic or over-the-top?

Sounds – Do you hear sounds that indicate caring or concern?

Once you’ve developed your knowledge to recognize gesture and their related emotions, you naturally become better at reading the nonverbal signals.

Find below an interpretation of more body language:

Curved back: submissive, meek
Forward pressed shoulders: fear
Upper body forward: increased interest, impatient
Head up: confident, determined, ready to act
Legs closed: proper, formal, scared
Legs crossed: self-assured, wanting security
Chin up: Confidence
Come closer: affection, attack, dominant behavior
Arms crossed chest: defensive, tight, uncomfortable, self-defense
Arms hanging limp: passive, submissive
Hands on hips: targeted, drive for stability, superior, rigid recalcitrant
Rubbing hands: smug, enjoyment
Hand to nose: fear, uncertainty
Hands in pocket: shy, uninterested
Stroke, smooth hair: focused to get attention, narcissism
Ironing clothes with hands: indecisive, timid and thoughtful
Constantly put on and off glasses: rejection out of defense
Vertical forehead wrinkles: focused, determined, willing to act
Horizontal forehead


noticing something, surprised,

comprehending, helpless, arrogant

Closed mouth: quiet, determined
Open mouth: passive, stunned, disappointed
Eyes focused in space: thoughtful, dismissive, self-centered

Frank Odhiambo – Mind Grid Perspectives

6 thoughts on “Communication – Nonverbal – Focus on Facial Cues.

Add yours

  1. Then I saw this later….great piece.

    Regards, Peter Obiene

    On Mon, Jul 31, 2017 at 11:36 AM, Mind Grid Perspectives wrote:

    > frankodhiamboblog posted: “The basic process of communication begins when > a fact or idea is generated in the mind of an individual who wishes to > share the idea across with someone else, s/he passes the idea over to > someone else through a chosen media. The receiver on the other hand” >


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