Have you ever observed a conversation from a distance and guessed what was happening from the body posture and gestures of the participants? A childhood friend of mine and I did that for fun. Oh the stories that we'd create.

Today I still do it and I could write volumes about this topic: reading faces, socializing, body language, and technology responses. Taking a quick look into what we don't say says is like pulling back the veil on effective communication. Often, there's a bit more going on behind a smiling face than a smiling face.

Years ago, a friend gave me a spine-tingling book to read: Reading Faces (1981) by Leopold Bellak, MD and Samm Sinclair Baker. Recently, I found an online program, SymFace, which is a direct result of the research done by Bellak and Sinclair in Reading Faces. Both measure facial symmetry using a technique called bi-lateral symmety. Both present absolutely fascinating information.

Bellak and Sinclair begin the technique by splitting the face. Try splitting the face of the picture above bi-laterally from top to bottom. What do you see? Did you notice that her smile is more pronounced on the left side but her eye is a bit smaller? Why is this? And why is she presenting the right side of her face toward the camera more so than her left?

Bellak and Sinclair writes that many of their study participants often present the right side of his or her face as more "... pleasant, vulnerable, or open in expression." While, "The left hand tends more often to reflect the hidden, sever, stern, or depressed aspects of the person underneath" (1981). Their conclusion was that the right side of the face draws the most attention and "...usually looks more like the whole face than the left side." Commenting that, "...the left side is likely to show the more basic disposition. This would mean that if somebody has a pleasant left half and a hard, angry right half, his original disposition was probably a pleasant one...."

In the case of the women in the pic above, her original disposition may have been a bit happier as evidenced by her more pronounced smile; however the muscles of her left eye developed differently than the right eye over time. Possibly meaning that the left-eye vision is weaker so the right-eye muscles were used more often to see. Whatever her situation may be, such nuances can give significant insight into the people that we communicate with.

To tease this idea out a bit, let's relate this to the way a person presents themselves with their body language, gestures, and eye movements while socializing. Keep in mind that the right side of the brain relates to creativity and intuition while the left side is more logical and pragmatic, excelling in abstractions.

The scenario is this. You meet someone at a social function. You hit it off with this person, or so you think. You're interested in this person. So, you begin to scan their non-verbal signals. You notice that he or she shifts to your right with his or her right foot forward as he or she leans back with his or her arms crossed. He or she smiles and laughs as you speak. You also notice that his or her eyes gaze left and upward and his or her right eye twitches a bit. You still feel interested, so you decide to test his or her interest level. You pull out your phone to exchange numbers. He or she laughs lightly, tightens his or her arms, shifts from the left to right foot settling on the left foot again. Yet, this time the right foot is not pointed forward. It points to his or her left and is drawn back. You give him or her your phone number. He or she laughs again while tapping it into his or her phone. Then he or she pats you on the right shoulder with his or her left hand telling you that he or she will call to connect. Will you hear from this person?

Chances are that you won't. Why? The first clue that something was off may have been the symmetry of the person's face. Chances are, this person's left sphere has a smaller eye and a bit of a down-turned mouth even when smiling.

However, for the sake of this scenario, the body language and eye movement spoke volumes. He or she moved to your right. That is an initial clue that the person was only interested in a quick social scan rather than getting to know you more. The movement was reinforced by the right foot being forward as he or she leaned back or away from you with arms crossed. (Crossed arms or legs can almost always be read as a guarded movement.)

The smiling and laugh could be a clue too. How is he or she smiling and laughing? Does the smile look and is the laughter forced or natural? What clues do his or her eyes give you as to how genuine the smile and laughter may be?

A clear, but often hard to read clue, is the eye movement. Bellak and Sinclair writes, "The more controlled or conscious responses, the civilized social mask, may be coming from the more reality-oriented left brain - and show up more on the right side of the face." Which means in this case that the left gazing and right-eye twitches were a signal that he or she was accessing the left side of his or her brain to respond to you, but expressing their response on his or her more social side. Since the underlying response was not congruent with his or her surface behavior, the right eye twitched.

When he or she laughed lightly and tightened his or her arms, shifting from the left to right foot and settling on the left foot, that was the second to last clue. The laughing could have been a cover to buy time, as with the shifting of body weight. The conclusion was the foot that he or she settled on, the left or more logical, with the right foot pulled back. Again there may have been a left-brain decision that was socially expressed with the left-pointing and drawn-back-right foot.

Yet, he or she still wanted to appear sociable, so he or she took your number or pretended to. (With what I know, I generally confirm interest by asking a person to read back the number or ping my phone when I give my number out.)

The final clue was when he or she patted you on the right shoulder with his or her left hand. In this case, he or she may have felt unguarded as they were almost off of the hook, so he or she was trying to be kind by patting you on the right, or social, shoulder. Yet, it was with his or left hand, which means? We shake hands with our right, or more social, hand, so he or she was logically concluded with that transaction. Concluded, as in, probably didn't foresee seeing or talking to you again.

Chances are few of us would have registered all of these nuances because we tend to register the more social nuances expressed on the right side of any face unless trained otherwise. Chances are that the person in this scenario was unaware of the breakdown of his or her non-verbal communication. Yet, it was there all the same.

I remember when I was learning American Sign Language. Some of my deaf friends purposely teased me by standing at odd angles to me when we were signing. At first I didn't get it. The more, however, I learned about the deaf culture and non-verbal communication, the more that I got them back: grin.

So, from here, what's something that you can do to learn more about the meaning of what we don't say? I suggest that you try pausing conversations. Seriously, listen with your eyes to what he or she may say. Then cross check what the other person was experiencing. Another good exercise is simply looking at people's faces and beginning to observe how their facial symmetry relates to their body language.

Author's Bio: 

Using a pragmatic approach to business and life, Deone Benninghoven, MSM is known as The Be-Clear Gal. She is a sought after coach, speaker, consultant, and author that facilitates the performance development of individuals, teams, and organizations using a strength-based and systemic approach. Her clients consistently indicate that Benninghoven's approach to change management is practical, useful, and sustainable. Individuals, and groups such as Microsoft, Accenture, Symbol Technologies, sovereign nations, local and regional municipalities, leave her Be-Clear keynotes with academically-sound and evidence-based information shared in a fun and easy-to-understand and apply format.

Benninghoven holds a BS and MSM from Antioch University Seattle in Organizational Design & Leadership Development and Management and lives in Seattle, WA. Believing that one step at a time the sculpture, dance, and song of life emerges, she is involved in multiple coaching and organizational-development associations, Toastmasters, the Seattle Writer's Guild, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, City of Seattle Youth Services, and sports, art, dance, and singing groups.

"Be clear on who you are and then be it" (Be True, Be Happy, Hanns-Oskar Porr).