Among the people you know, who would you say shows all his emotions on his face? You know exactly what he’s thinking, how he feels about what you just suggested and whether he agrees with you. He smiles, laughs, frowns, looks skeptical, roll his eyes and more. He shares his thoughts too. He tells you when he disagrees with you, when you hurt his feelings, and when he thinks you’ve being ridiculous. His facial expressions and body language match what he feels and thinks.
Now who among the people you know is the opposite? Who covers up her feelings, hides her reactions, and doesn’t show her emotions? She may give her opinion freely (or always nod and seem to agree) but you really can’t get a sense of how she feels.
Which person do you feel closer to? Which person do you trust more? Which person do you feel a bit tense around and who do you feel more laid back with?
Research into the way people make connections shows that social signaling is one of the most important factors in forming relationships. A social signal is any action or overt behavior, regardless of its form, its intent, or the performer’s awareness, that is carried out in the presence of another person (Lynch, 2018). Social signals evolved to help humans communicate and bond, to work together in tribes and help assure our survival in a world where humans did not have size or claws on their side. . Social signals could quickly signal cooperation, friendliness or aggressiveness.
Because social signals evolved to help humans survive, when social signals are unclear, don’t seem authentic, or don’t match the context, those signals are interpreted as a threat. If you’re in the company of someone who is smiling in an inauthentic way while telling you he just lost his job, you will likely react by wanting to get away from that person. Your gut will react, telling you something is up. You don’t trust the person. If you meet someone who has no expression on his face at all, a flat-face, you’ll also likely be uncomfortable. When social signals are unclear, the brain leans toward interpreting that as a threat or aggression. You are likely to see a flat-face as anger.
Very many reasons, some people may attempt to hide the way they feel. When they’re hurt or upset, they put a smile on their face and cover up the pain. Many emotionally sensitive people, who’ve repeatedly been told there are too sensitive and over-react, may hide their emotions to avoid criticism. Many hide their emotions to avoid rejection. The problem is that hiding emotions is more likely to lead to rejection than the honest expression of emotions.
In fact, if you want to connect with others, the honest and open expression of emotions may be the key. According to Lynch’s research, open and honest expression of emotions leads to trust and that leads to connection.
So if you’ve worked hard to have a poker face, you may want to be sure that poker face is only for when you’re playing cards or when the context calls for a good bluff. If you want to be part of the group and connected with others, expressing those emotions and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the way to go.