Empathy is the ability to emotionally read other people. From their words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body gestures we get clues as to what a person is thinking and feeling.  Empathy also includes taking an interest in and concern for others.

Some people give off clear, unmistakable clues as to how they’re feeling: A red face, gritting teeth, and steam coming from their ears and we have no doubt that they’re angry. Others don’t give us such obvious clues, though with practice we can develop our senses and learn to read the not so obvious clues that they do give us.

Although facial expressions don’t always really shows us the underlying emotional state (people are very good at faking it), they are a good indicator of what a person will do next. Physiognomy and personology are psuedosciences that believe one’s character can be determined by one’s facial features. It is believed that one’s face can tell you if the person is intelligent, honest, kind, patient, etc. For example, pointed ear tips, it’s believed, indicate reliability; a downward pointing nose indicates unreliability.

Since our brains have two hemispheres, the two sides of our faces indicate different things. The left side of our brains is where we find logic, language, numbers, and abstract thought. The corresponding right side of our face is a social mask, controlled, and conscious. The right side of our brains is where we find intuition, imagination, metaphor, and emotions. The corresponding left side of the face shows deeper emotions, basic attitude, and underlying character.

So if we want to read a people’s emotions, we should look at the left side of their faces. Study what their various facial features are doing. Look at the eyebrows, eyes, mouth, forehead, nose, jaw, cheeks, and neck. For example, in happiness the eyebrows are slightly lowered, the eyes are bright and partially closed, the corners of the mouth are lifted, and the cheeks are raised. In anger the eyebrows are drawn together, the eyes are opened wide and fixated, the teeth are clenched, and neck muscles are strained and rigid.

One way to practice picking up on facial clues is to look at photographs of people’s faces. Concentrate on the left side of the face. Look at the different facial features. What are the eyebrows doing? The eyes?  Mouth? To learn what facial features do in different emotions pretend that you are angry, sad, surprised, etc. Make faces in the mirror to see what your different facial features are doing.

Make a copy of a photograph of a person’s face. Horizontally flip one side of the face and put both pieces together so that you have the left side of the face paired with the flipped left side of the face. Do the same thing for the right side of the face.  Click here for some examples of what I mean.

You’ll notice how eerily different the faces look. Each side of the face is definitely telling different stories. Of course, the photos I used are of politicians who artfully fake emotions on a regular basis, but still there are definite differences in what the right side and left side are portraying.

Continue to practice reading others’ faces to find clues to their underlying emotions. Remember to focus on the left side of the face. Body gestures and posture, tone of voice, the speed at which people talk, and volume also help you decipher what a person is feeling.

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