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Being more facially expressive could be making you more likeable and a better negotiator, study finds!

Being more facially expressive could be making you more likeable and a better negotiator, study finds!
For decades, corporate culture has taught budding professionals to wear their emotions in an email, and not on their sleeve. God only knows how many ‘let’s circle back’s and ‘per my last email’s this practice birthed, culminating in those inescapable, faux-inspirational ‘Here’s what proposing to my wife taught me about B2B’ posts on Linkedin. If you also feel suffocated by how “artificial” corporate-speak can seem, here’s a bit of good news for you.

In a serendipitous study for folk whose faces react faster than their words, researchers have uncovered compelling evidence that such reactive instincts may actually result in better social outcomes, such as making them more likeable and better negotiators.

The first phase of the study involved researchers posing as participants in semi-structured video calls with 52 individuals. These sessions were designed to elicit a range of behaviours such as listening, humour, embarrassment, and conflict. To assess the ability to suppress facial expressions, participants were also asked to maintain a still face while their partner attempted to provoke a reaction.

Following these interactions, the same individuals recorded short video clips attempting to convey various social goals, including appearing friendly, threatening, and disagreeing without causing offence. More than 170 observers were then shown these clips and asked to rate the emotions and expressions being conveyed to gauge the "readability" and likability of each participant.

The study utilised the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to measure facial muscle activity, which helps people precisely distinguish between facial expressions — a step that was crucial for this study. The researchers then conducted a follow-up analysis using an existing dataset of unscripted video conversations between 1,456 strangers. In these conversations, participants rated their liking for each other, which was then analysed in relation to their FACS results and other recognised measures.

The results were clear: individuals who were more expressive were consistently liked more by both independent raters and their conversation partners. These expressive individuals were also found to be easier to read and better able to adapt their facial behaviour to achieve social goals.

One of the most striking findings emerged from a conflict scenario where participants negotiated for a better reward payment. Those who were both agreeable and expressive achieved better outcomes, demonstrating the practical benefits of facial expressivity in conflict resolution.

"This is the first large scale study to examine facial expression in real-world interactions,” explains lead author Eithne Kavanagh. “Our evidence shows that facial expressivity is related to positive social outcomes. It suggests that more expressive people are more successful at attracting social partners and in building relationships. It also could be important in conflict resolution."

The findings of this study have been published in Scientific Reports and can be accessed here.


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