Video conferencing has become a thing. A big thing.
As the Coronavirus keeps the wide majority of us home rather than in our offices, conferencing over the Internet has quickly taken over as one of the best ways to communicate among team members.
Just last week, for instance, “Zoom Cloud Meetings” ranked #1 among the most downloaded applications.
Though much more impersonal than traditional face-to-face meetings, paying attention to your manager’s facial expressions and mannerisms over a video conference can reveal unspoken insights into what he or she is thinking and whether or not they are happy with your work.
Or, just happy in general.
Believe it or not, several key expressions can instantly communicate unspoken feelings of sadness or delight, anger or fear. And, maybe even disgust and contempt. The next time you’re on a video conference, keep an eye out for these expressions and mannerisms to understand exactly what your boss is thinking.
Facial expressions and mannerisms that reveal your manager’s intentions
Reading facial expressions takes practice, and it definitely requires a little context.
For example, your manager might be one of those people who always smiles, so a smile over a video conference may not necessarily indicate happiness.
The American Psychological Association says that there are two basic types of expressions: macroexpressions – that typically last up to 4 seconds, and microexpressions, which most of us only express for 1/30th of a second. They are fast and easy to miss.
“Microexpressions are likely signs of concealed emotions,” the APA wrote. Observing microexpressions can tell us much more about what our boss is thinking because they tend to be subconscious and unintentional facial movements and mannerisms.
In other words, most of us don’t know that we’re making them.
Let’s take a look at several common types of emotions that your boss might have and what microexpressions they could be making to reveal their emotional state.
Your boss might be upset when:
Their eyebrows are lowered or come together, or other facial muscles are tensed. They might also move their head back and forth (in the “no” posture). The jaw is very often lowered and lips are pressed together to form a straight line, or sometimes the lip edges dip down.
Some managers will inadvertently raise one side of their mouth, and others might display a half-smile, almost in a sarcastic “Uh huh…” sort of tone, indicating that they don’t believe what you’re saying. In addition, a triangle might form between the eyebrows, but this could also indicate confusion rather than anger or sadness.
I have also found that some managers will fidget with their hands or move their hands to the back of their head or neck when they are impatient or uncomfortable with the situation.
Sometimes, it’s tough to differentiate between anger and disappointment, but knowing your boss might help to make that line a little more clear.
Your boss might be happy when:
Smiles are tell-tale signs of happiness, but as I said before, not always. If your manager is a perpetual smiler, then don’t take a smile as an automatic indication that he or she is happy. Of course, the same logic applies if your manager never smiles.
Instead, observe other happiness-related expressions, like exposed teeth during the smile or lip corners that turn upward at the ends, often in a symmetric way. Believe it or not, genuine smiles require the use of more facial muscles, especially around the eyes, and genuine smiles will reveal more lines and creases. And if your boss’s lips rise up as you’re speaking, there’s a good chance that he or she is happy with what you’re saying.
And, raised cheeks very often indicate legitimate smiles, as do sharp vertical skin creases between the nose and the edges of the mouth.
Also, slight laughs, giggles or nods can also indicate genuine happiness, especially if your manager doesn’t usually laugh or giggle.
Your boss has not committed to an emotion when:
If your boss has a strong poker face, then he or she might exhibit fairly neutral emotions but still reveal microexpressions that astute observers can easily pick up on.
For example, surprised reactions can very often be neutral emotions until more information is known. Thus, if you surprise your boss, that does not necessarily mean that it’s bad. Surprised looks often include widened or raised eyelids and eyebrows. Or, some people combine raised eyebrows with what would ordinarily be a frown. And, the mouth will typically open a bit.
I’ve found that the more your boss raises their eyelids or eyebrows, the more likely it is that their emotions are positive. If the surprised reaction includes a slight head tilt or more of an indifferent shoulder shrug, then your boss might be unsure how to react or maybe even hold less positive emotions.
Reading people’s macro and microexpressions is a skill that can reveal a lot about the other person. But, remember that the more you know about that person, the more context you’ll have with every expression that they make. Meaning, you’ll know if a smile doesn’t necessarily mean that they are happy, or if they regularly lift an eyebrow without actually being surprised.
However, learning about these microexpressions and what they reveal can give you a leg up in virtually any conversation, both inside as well as outside of an office.