Can You Read Faces?

by | Oct 14, 2020

Thirty-two years ago a trial attorney read a distressed look in my eyes and responded in a way that changed the course of my life.

The ability to read the emotions in others’ faces and eyes is incredibly valuable in every part of daily life. If you keep reading, you’ll learn how you can access two tests that measure your ability to read both eyes and facial expressions.

But first, the moment that changed my life.

Embarrassing My Judge without a Shirt

My first job out of law school was to clerk for a federal judge. He served on appellate courts around the country, so we often traveled together. One week I left early so I could attend a Christian Legal Society Conference in Chicago before flying on to join the Judge in Washington, D.C.

The CLS conference was informal, so I wore casual clothes for three days. As I was repacking my bag the last day of the event, I realized with horror that I’d failed to bring a white dress shirt, which was an essential part of the suit-and-tie wardrobe expected in Federal Court. I had no way to get to a store and cringed at the thought of embarrassing my Judge by appearing in court improperly dressed.

As I walked into the conference center for the morning keynote, I was racking my brain for a way to buy a shirt. I was standing in a crowd of over two-hundred attorneys when the keynote speaker, an attorney named Fred Cassidy, walked through the lobby. He passed me but after a few steps, he suddenly pivoted, and came back to where I was standing. Having noticed the distressed look on my face, he asked, “Are you OK?”

I was a complete stranger, barely out of law school. He was a highly respected litigator and CLS Board member, who was about to give the keynote address at the conference. And yet his trained eye had noticed the distressed look in my eyes and on my face, and his kind heart brought him to my rescue.

As soon as I blurted out my dilemma, Fred reached into his pocket and pulled out his car keys. After telling me where his car was parked, he explained how to get to a nearby shopping center. He then asked me if I needed any money …

Thirty-eight years later, I’m still moved to tears when I recall his sensitivity and kindness.

That one act defined the Christian Legal Society in my mind and moved me to become a member. That involvement heightened my interest in biblical mediation and arbitration and led to my founding the Christian Conciliation Service of Montana, which evolved into Peacemaker Ministries … and eventually led me to establish Relational Wisdom 360.

A very small gesture on Fred’s part, but one that changed the course of my life, led to two fruitful ministries that have impacted hundreds of thousands of lives all around the world.

Learning to Read Faces and Eyes

Reading body language, facial expressions and just a person’s eyes is a vital relational skill and key element of other-awareness. As Fred Cassidy demonstrated, this ability can have a life-changing impact on our friendships, marriages, parenting, professional success, as well as our ministry to others and witness for Christ.

The Bible gives many examples of how our facial expressions can communicate our inward thoughts and feelings, which may include anger (Gen. 4:5-6), anxiety (Gen. 40:5-7), sadness (Neh. 2:2), gladness (Prov. 15:13), gloominess (Matt. 6:16) and resolve (Luke 9:51) … to name just a few.

Some people seem to have a natural ability to read others’ faces and eyes. Not me. All too often, I’ve completely missed important facial cues from those around me … often sending the message that I simply didn’t care about their concerns or struggles.

But God has been helping me to steadily grow in this area. Here are a few ways that you too can improve your ability to read other people’s faces.

  • Register for our online course, Discovering Relational Wisdom 3.0, which will give you a theological and neurology framework for enhancing a full array of relational skills, including the ability to read faces and eyes.
  • Use one of our Group Study Sets to learn and practice these life-changing principles with ten of your closest friends.
  • Concentrate more deliberately on the facial expressions and the eyes of people you talk to in daily life, intentionally seeking to discern their thoughts and emotions.
  • Watch movies based on high quality drama (such as a PBS Masterpiece series like Downton Abbey), or movies featuring gifted actors and actresses, and pay careful attention to the facial expressions and related emotions.
  • Watch familiar movies with the sound turned off, and note how the facial expressions and glances of eyes carry the plot line forward even without hearing the words.
  • Watch some of the film clips that we’ve featured in RW Movie Blogs, many of which provide detailed descriptions of the underlying emotions that you see displayed in the clips.
  • When you sit in a public place, like a restaurant or the waiting room in an airport or medical office, thoughtfully observe the facial expressions of the people around you and try to guess what they are talking about and feeling.
  • Evaluate your face-and-eye-reading skills by taking the Well Eye-Reading Quiz and the  Body Language Quiz, which explain key facial indicators of emotions like joy, interest, anger, embarrassment, fear, sadness, disgust, suspicion and shame. Whether you score high or low, use these tests to motivate yourself to deliberate cultivate these relationship enhancing skills.
  • To learn about 15 additional ways you can study, practice and share relational wisdom in your sphere of influence, click here.

The turmoil of current events and the limitations of masks provide countless opportunities to improve your ability to read eyes and faces … and to use your insights to minister to people who are lonely, sad, anxious or discouraged.

You never know when such sensitivity may enable you to read and bless someone the same way that Fred Cassidy read and blessed me—and impacted the course of my life—so many years ago.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Think of a person who has an unusual ability to read your eyes and facial expressions. What kind of impact does he or she seem to have on other people’s lives?
  • Now think of a person who consistently fails to read your expressions or emotions. How much impact does that person seem to have on other people’s lives?
  • How could improving your ability to read facial expressions effect your friendships, working relationships, or witness for Christ?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2020 Ken Sande

Would you like to receive future posts like this? Subscribe now!

Share this post