I am trained as an engineer and computer scientist so it may come as no surprise that reading people's emotions is not my greatest strength.
Through hard knocks, I realized that sensing and responding to emotions is critical and that I should team up with others who are good at doing this.
Melissa Moore--chief people officer and senior behavioral model expert at Mattersight, a Chicago-based company that helps call centers deliver better service--is clearly such a person.
Moore argues that people's communications styles show up in their facial expressions. Moreover, as Dr. Taibi Kahler’s Process Communication Model describes, there are six such styles and they manifest themselves in different facial expressions.
Here's how Moore recommends that you recognize and respond to them effectively.
1. The Blank Slate
If you're talking with someone who stares back with no expression, you are likely to ask yourself, "Do they think I’m an idiot? Do they hate me?"
The answers to both questions are 'No.' In fact, people who listen with a blank stare are acting according to type.
As Moore explained, "This logical, organized, responsible personality type values information and takes the processing of it seriously. When listening, they’re in deep data-intake mode. It’s not time for expression."
Fortunately, there is an easy way for you to confirm her analysis. Simply ask the listener: “Does that make sense to you?”
"Address this type in a direct way, and give them credit for their thinking and analysis, which is what they value most. A brief nod or crisp 'yep' will let you know they’re with you and want you to keep going," explained Moore.
2. The Furrowed Brow
If your listener's face frowns back at you intensely, you may be thinking: Do they disagree with me? Have I offended them?
The answers are 'No' again--however, this listener is different from the first. He is a "dedicated, observant, conscientious personality type [who] processes information through the lens of [his] values and beliefs. [He's] evaluating what you’re saying, comparing it to [his] very clear and closely held concepts of how things should be," explained Moore.
To clear the air, she suggests you ask this listener, 'Are you ok with that so far?'
These values-driven listeners appreciate when you acknowledge the value of their opinion and will tell you what they think when you ask them to do so.
3. The Fidgeter
If your listener is glancing around the room, making expressive faces, shifting in her seat, or making an inappropriate comment or joke you might wonder whether she is taking you seriously.
In fact, says Moore "this spontaneous, creative, playful, personality type seeks contact and stimulation. Tactile activity helps [her] concentrate, so what can look like distractedness to the outside observer–tapping a foot, clicking a pen" is meant to tell you that you have her attention.
And the joke is your cue to lighten up.
Playful types are delighted with a quick, casual check-in--e.g., “You good?”--and may respond with "a big thumbs up or an animated I’m cool!' in response," according to Moore.
4. The Daydreamer
If your listener is staring out the window, you will start wondering whether he's listening at all--or simply bored to tears.
No worries--your listener is the "calm, imaginative, reflective personality type [who] needs isolation to think and process," said Moore.
Ask him if he has a question--if so, he'll ask it; if not, his "response will let you know that [he's] been tuned in to you the whole time," she said.
5. The Anticipator
If your listener's face conveys impatience, you may be wondering what she wants you to say or whether she is about to walk away.
In fact, she's just waiting for you to present you the opportunity at the end of your analysis. As Moore explained, "This adaptable, charming, persuasive personality type is all about action. They’re listening to you with an ear for their next move. They’re looking for opportunity."
Give her a chance to be part of the action--by asking “See where we’re going?”--advises Moore.
6. The Smiley Face
If your listener is smiling right at you and nodding along with everything you say, you may think he's faking his enthusiasm.
In fact, he empathizes and wants to help you. As Moore explained, "This compassionate, sensitive, warm personality type is a natural nurturer. Smiles and nods are [his] way of letting you know that [he values] you–and [he thinks] you’re doing a great job."
To make sure you are in synch, ask him how he feels about what you're saying.
Explained Moore, "[His] enthusiastic affirmation will assure you of [his] attention."
These six facial expressions are the tip of the iceberg of working well with others--learn them, give each their emotional due, and success will be closer to your grasp.