‘Poker Face’ – and the second language of communication

There are many things that happen to us that suggest adopting a poker face would be a smart move.  You may be teased when young, or you may suffer bullying, and showing that you are affected is the last thing you want to do.  The transition from primary to secondary school is rich in occasions when we don’t want to show that we are upset.   Although, in adulthood, there are still situations where this is useful, mostly it’s more effective to let your emotions show.  And we’re not talking about being ‘emotional’ which is the way we describe people who get easily upset and display acutely negative emotions like anger and despair – normally inappropriately.

What we are talking about is the rich range of day-to-day emotions like surprise, amusement, disappointment, disbelief etc.  In fact, academics in this field have listed more than 400 separately identifiable emotions, whose appearance in our faces creates a second language of communication.  This second ‘language’ – our ability to tell what another person is feeling (and thereby guess at what they are thinking) is not something we have to learn, it’s something we become skilful at as young children.  In fact, not developing this skill at around 12 months is one of the symptoms of Autism.  However it’s something we tend to suppress.  Telling someone that you can see how they are feeling, and therefore thinking, is not exactly encouraged in our society.

So bringing this skill back into play and letting more emotions into your face will have a number of benefits:

  • It will make you more accessible to others; people will warm to you, there will be better ‘chemistry’.  A real negative emotion is more attractive than a plastic positive one.  (Whatever you think of ‘Reality TV’ – this is the basis of its appeal.)
  • You’ll be more in touch with your own emotions and better able to guide your accompanying reactions and decisions.
  • It will help you become comfortable in using your ability to read reactions in others.  Exploring someone’s emotional reaction, thoughtfully and carefully, may feel awkward but is seen by the recipient as understanding and helpful.
  • It will open the way to appearing more mature, and developing gravitas.

Find a role model who appeals to you, or just watch for characteristics in others that you like and add them to your portfolio.  The trick in executing any part of your emotional portfolio will be to allow the mindset that would underpin it.   Don’t try to control your actions; we’re talking method acting here.  Just be that way.

We are worse at concealing our emotions than we think, and better at detecting others’.  Our emotions are there for others to see just as theirs are plain to us.  We don’t mind each other’s emotions; it’s the masks that cause distrust.  (Horses, who read human emotion, are at ease with people with Autism and Asperger’s – what you see is what you get.  It’s ‘normal’ people who are pretending one thing and feeling another that spooks them.  Ask a regular rider.)  And as Laurence Olivier is supposed to have said ‘If you can fake sincerity – you’ve got it made’.

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