Why you’re having a hard time reading your coworkers’ emotions lately

A critical way we maintain relationships is by being in tune with others—reading facial expressions, interpreting emotions, and responding. But this has been tough over the last year. We haven’t seen each other as much, so we may be out of practice. Moreover, mask mandates have been integral to public health but affected how we read emotions. The eyes may be the “windows of the soul,” but over the last year or so, we’ve learned, eye contact alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

This is to say communicating feels different when portions of our faces are covered. But in the same way we are coming back from the pandemic, we can also renew our appreciation for the facial expressions and body language signs that helped build relationships and rapport. In particular, smiling has intriguing implications. Challenges of reading emotions

Even in the best of circumstances, reading facial expressions is tough. Computer experts have even struggled to develop an algorithm that does it successfully. And despite the fact that facial responses are innate and automatic, the average person is often wrong about how they interpret expressions, or they are unaware of them. In addition, people interpret facial cues based on their own unique perspectives, which introduces even more variability into the process.

Our interpretation is also dulled when we can’t see a whole face. This is true when we’re wearing masks, but also when we’re wearing sunglasses and when we see faces from a distance or through a brief glance. A study by the University of Wisconsin found children struggled to identify expressions. When faces were covered with masks, they correctly identified sadness only about 28% of the time, anger 27%, and fear 18%. How to successfully sync up

Reading others’ expressions allows us to empathize and relate to the people around us. And human connection is critical to our well-being. We are hardwired to connect with others. In fact, a study by the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain, and Language found when people were in conversations with others, their brain waves mirrored each other. In addition, we have an instinct to mimic facial expressions, which helps us experience and identify with others’ feelings, according to a research by the University of Wisconsin . We crave relationships, and seeing and interpreting signals from each other are important ways we form bonds.

There may also be a genetic component to the way we relate. According to research from Northwestern University , people’s ability to quickly recognize emotions was partly based on genetics, and those who recognized others’ emotions also expressed their own emotions more quickly; consequently, there is a reciprocal relationship between expressing and interpreting emotion. More research from University of Birmingham shows the […]

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