Recognizing Faces & Feelings to Improve Communication

Child is fascinated by my camera and watched me as I was working at the Hôpital Baptiste Biblique in Tsiko, Togo, West Africa. [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1400, 1/200, ƒ/4, (35mm = 105)]

“You’ll never look at other people in quite the same way again. Emotions Revealed is a tour de force.”

– Malcolm Gladwell

Paul Ekman (born February 15, 1934) is an American psychologist who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has created an “atlas of emotions” with more than ten thousand facial expressions, and has gained a reputation as “the best human lie detector in the world”.

A little boy in a classroom in Honduras. I was there to help capture the work of a foundation in improving the lives of the people of Honduras. [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 7200, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 122)]

If you are a professional communicator and haven’t studied body language, then I believe Emotions Revealed is a great place to learn about it. Specifically Ekman explores the face expressions of people around the world.

Even in the preface of the book Ekman warns that keen observation alone needs to be verified.

“… carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling. Sometimes that means asking the person about the emotion you have spotted, acknowledging how he or she is feeling, or re-calibrating your own reactions in light of what you have recognized.”

– Paul Ekman
London Bobby in a large selfie at Buckingham Palace before the Changing of the Guards [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 800, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 300)]
Feeding the ducks, geese and pigeons at Kensington Palace Gardens [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/180, ƒ/4.7, (35mm = 272)]

If you are a professional communicator and haven’t read any of Ekman’s work you are really missing out on what all research points to about human communication.

Dr. Mehrabian, in the 1960s, devised a formula to describe how the mind determines meaning. He concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature.

It would be almost 40 years before the research of Ekman helped us to understand some of that Visual Communication.

One of the best parts about the book is the photographic examples he uses throughout the book.

One of the examples is about Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. The photo is in the book. He uses a few photojournalism moments in history to teach us about face expressions.

What Ekman is trying to teach us is a new kind of awareness that he calls attentiveness. I believe if you can master the skills of recognizing expressions, you can learn to anticipate them.

If you can anticipate these expressions then you can capture them with a camera and use them to tell the story.

If you just react with your camera, very rarely will you capture the tell-tale signs of the visual.

The work of Ekman was used in the TV Series Lie To Me.