Give Good Face (and Voice!)

Studies show that trust – perhaps the most important element of effective communication – is closely tied to facial expression. In our first year of life we are largely unable to speak or understand nuanced language. Our brains are developing faster than at any other time in our lives and we are also at our most vulnerable and dependent on adult care. And yet, anyone who’s spent time around babies will agree: they can be downright judgmental! What, for example, causes a baby to reach out smiling for one stranger and recoil, bursting into sobs when they see another? If you’ve ever been the unfortunate target of a baby’s disapproval, you’ve probably felt deeply wounded and wondered, “What did I do?!?”

While there’s no way to know for sure, we may have some clues as to how babies make these determinations (beyond just being generally cranky, hungry, tired, or otherwise in a mood). Some fairly recent studies have shown that inconsistent information or incomplete information may be at least partly to blame.

Inconsistent means at least one of the three most crucial non-verbal communication modes – tone of voice, body language, facial expression – does not match up with the tone of the words being spoken. This may also explain why some folks are labeled “creepy,” even if the exact reason why is difficult to identify. (Consider the person who smiles or laughs in the middle of a serious argument. ¬†Or the one who presents a new initiative about which they claim to be excited but their face or tone of voice projects worry and stress.)

Incomplete means a half-smile or fake smile (one that does not include the squinting of the eyes), or a guarded stance accompanying a message of welcome. (See the video from the last post from Mark Bowden for more on this.)

A poker face may be useful in Vegas, but when communication and trust are necessary, it’s time to get the face and voice involved. A reputable coach can help loosen things up and find a comfortable and authentic way to express these sentiments without looking or feeling strange.

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