The Art And Science Of Expressing And Recognising Emotions

3 min read
8 April 2022

“It is Friday afternoon, Victor is happy, counting down the hours to go to the beach for the weekend with his family, the first trip after months of restrictions. His boss, Alex, walks into the office, with the same look on his face as when he's furious, and tells Victor that the head office wants all the economic data for his project today, or they'll postpone it for a semester. Victor knows it takes 8 hours of work and he will not be able to go to the beach. Once again, work comes before family.

We have all experienced similar situations and we have asked ourselves what is better, to pretend that we have not been irritated or frustrated? Or to take the risk and say or do something that will make things worse? Both paths can have negative consequences.

Suppressing anger or frustration is useful in the short term. When it suits us, in order to avoid a difficult situation, we may decide not to share what we are feeling with the boss, and we verbally accept the change, postpone what interests us, and wait for better moments to negotiate our rights. 

The body expresses what you have in your mind and between 65% and 93% of emotional information is transmitted through non-verbal communication; what we do not say with words communicates a large volume of information!

In conversations with other people, we are constantly sending and receiving emotional non-verbal signals, through facial expressions, voice and body language. The body does not ask for permission to show what we have in our heads. 

The face is the most important emotional communication channel. Whether you are aware of it or not, your face reflects what you are feeling, even when you want to hide it, our micro expressions appear and give us away, no one can hide them. 

In Victor's case, it is most likely that his boss has felt his discomfort, although Victor has not expressed it verbally, perhaps he has seen his frustrated face or simply his mirror neurons have captured Victor's emotionality.

From Victor's point of view, trying to permanently suppress the existence of emotion, is detrimental to our physical and mental health. Feeling angry or frustrated is a sign that something needs to change. Another danger of not facing emotions is to get stuck, ruminating, with obsessive repetitive thoughts that interfere with other types of thinking, your performance and your day-to-day life.

The three negative or uncomfortable emotions at work that most often cause dysfunctional and conflictive behaviours are frustration-anger, anxiety-fear, and disappointment-sadness. 

Neuroscience provides us with techniques and tools to learn to manage them and express them appropriately based on the situation. The healthiest strategy is to develop emotional resilience, learn to control impulses and manage the intensity of emotions while remaining calm, learn to express emotions in an appropriate way according to each situation, avoiding behaviours that deteriorate relationships. 

They are techniques that anyone can apply and practice, you just need the determination and the attitude of wanting to know yourself and manage yourself better.

Víctor's decision about not expressing his feelings has been influenced by recognising the ‘angry face’ of his boss. Primary emotions* produce specific changes in the body, voice and face, it is a biological reaction. The facial expression of each emotion is universal, regardless of age, culture, race, sex or religion, all humans express them the same.

Recognising emotions not only tells you what the person is feeling, but also their mental process. In the case of Alex's rage -high intensity rage- Victor can learn the following from his thought process:

  • Your mind is processing an obstruction to your goals, the universal trigger for anger.
  • His vision is focused on what has made him furious, he does not see anything else.
  • Your attention is selective, your thinking only incorporates the information that justifies your anger (emotional bias).
  • Your body is prepared for the confrontation.

The duration and intensity of the emotional state depends on each person, we all experience the same emotions, but each one experiences them differently; it is a subjective experience. In general, the sooner you get out of the emotional state, the better/ You are less likely to react inappropriately. Emotional agility is a skill that improves with practice.

Learning to recognise the emotions of others allows you to better understand them, respond appropriately and take care of your relationships. It also helps you successfully manage individual situations of conflictive behaviour.

How to learn to recognise emotions?

  • Pay attention, observe. It seems obvious, but if you look at your phone or take your taking notes,  you will miss relevant information.
  • Learn the facial expression of each emotion
  • Train for an hour to learn how to see micro-expressions

If you want to assess how good you are at interpreting emotions in others, you can complete the following quiz. It is useful and lots of fun.

* primary emotions: joy, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust

Watch Catalina’s Brain-Friendly Channel Session

When: Apr 11 2022 3PM GMT-6
Hosted: Ricardo González, LATAM President, About my Brain Institute
Guest: Catalina Pons, Consultant, Facilitator & Coach in emotional intelligence and neuroleadership

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