Leonardo, Facial Expression And Your Next Meeting

At your next meeting look around and make a mental note of who in the room seems to be watching the facial expressions of others. How about you? Are you reading facial expressions?

When proposals are being circulated in a negotiation, the attentive negotiator will put their pen down, put away the smart phone, look up from the laptop and watch for that millisecond look on each face around the table. Those few seconds of deliberate observation may tell more than the words that follow.

For centuries throughout art history, painters and sculptors have studied both the art and science of facial expression.

The genius-filled notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) contain his ink drawings in search of how facial expression works. (Turns out there are at least 12 major facial muscle groups involved.) His curiosity went to such lengths (i.e. medical dissection in the 15th century) because he knew that facial expression was the “without which there is nothing” of portraiture; and it led him to paint one of the most famous facial expressions ever painted.

While technology can distract us from live observation of facial expression, it’s interesting how eager technology has been (e.g. Facebook, face recognition software, smart phone cameras etc.) to reconnect with facial expression, as if to reinforce Leonardo’s insight that few things in nature are as interesting as the faces of human beings.

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