I was searching for cream cheese in the dairy aisle when I heard giggles from adorable twin boys fully engaged in a poking contest. Their gregarious age appropriate behavior gave me a chuckle until the poking turned to malicious pinching. Twin one screamed “OOWWW” followed by “MOMMM!” Twin two got a well deserved glare from mom followed by “Apologize to your brother right now!” Twin two obediently obliged with “I’M SORRY!” He shouted the words, rendering them with an expression of utter contempt. “Now say it like you mean it!” demanded their mother. The second “I’m sorry” was delivered with a sweet voice but twin two’s eyes were squinted in disdain, his nose was wrinkled in a sneer, and his lips were pursed with stubbornness. Despite his kindly toned words, twin two was not sorry. His expression told the truth.
Pinching aside, this scene was amusing because it involved kids. When it comes to adults, the stakes are higher and we need to be more aware of our nonverbal language. This is especially important when communicating with kids who take us at “face value.”
Imagine you get a phone call from your 4th grader’s school. The principal asks you to come in and pick your child up after she’s suspended for cursing at a teacher. You arrive at the office and immediately engage in conversation with the principal. You don’t say a word to your child but look in her direction to communicate through your expression. What expression will you choose? What message does it convey? Most importantly are you managing it or is it managing you?
Here is another scenario. Your boss tells you that he needs you in the office during the week you had planned to go to Hawaii for a corporate conference. You maintain your verbal poise but your facial expressions are at work. What truth are they telling about what you think of your boss and his decision?
These “scenes” are designed to make you think about how different circumstances evoke different emotions and how these emotions are subsequently expressed. We use our words as well as our body language including expressions. What are your expressions saying about you? How are they impacting your relationships?
Many people believe that they are skilled communicators because they are articulate or selectively silent. What they may not realize is that their expressions are undercover agents actively conveying their thoughts.
If you want to know more about how your expressions convey your thoughts, consider trying this exercise but do it in private so you can be honest with yourself and see how others might be perceiving you. Go ahead. It’ll be our little secret!
Stare right into the mirror and allow yourself to see your natural expression for the following emotions:
Anger (Your kids played Frisbee in the house and broke your favorite vase.)
Frustration (You asked your kids several times to clean their room and they didn’t.)
Empathy (You feel for your son who just got cut from the baseball team.)
Surprise (Your daughter got an A in math which is her most challenging subject.)
Irritation (Your kids keep interrupting you while you’re on the phone.)
Sheer Joy (The pregnancy test is positive… or negative!)
Shock (Your son got a detention.)
You get the idea.
So what do you do with all this information? I’m glad you asked.
Emotional intelligence experts tell us that emotions themselves are not bad or good. The way in which we express them, however, can result in bad or good outcomes. If we continuously expose negative expressions with our boss, we might not be chosen for a promotion. If we scowl at our kids regularly, we convey that we are bothered when they come to us with their problems. What they might deduce is that their parent is not approachable.
We’re not perfect beings and emotions should certainly not be suppressed. There are ways in which we can communicate them with finesse to create winning outcomes for all involved. Aristotle said, “Anyone can get angry. That is easy. But to get angry at the right person, for the right reason, at the right time, that is not so easy.”
As your children’s maturity permits, you can teach them these techniques as well. What a wonderful life skill to be able to manage (note I didn’t say “suppress and control”) your emotions and to read other’s emotions as well.
What are your thoughts? Please leave us a comment.