Facial Expressions – an essential way to communicate

Did you know that your face can reveal whether you would have the tendency to freeze, flee or fight when under stress?

We all know that our body language – including our facial movements or expressions – give away information. It is an essential part of how we communicate. And our body language is often the first reaction to events around us.

To put it very simply, our instinctive brain receives information, processes it, and reacts. Our body language is the outward expression of that reaction.

INSA, the Institute for Non-verbal Strategy Analysis based in the Netherlands carries out research into facial expressions. It has discovered that repetitive facial movements reveal certain personality characteristics and behavioral strategies of an individual.

Every person has a consistent set of highly repetitive facial micro-movements that are displayed throughout different situations. The movements around the eyes are especially important, such as raising the eyebrows, lowering the upper eyelids or tensing up the lower eyelids.  We display this Personal Nonverbal Repertoire (PNR) with more intensity and/or higher frequency as the tension in an interaction increases.

Facial Movements

However, these movements can be taken into account only if we make them repeatedly, not just occasionally. ‘Repeatedly’ may be considered to be at least 50 times within five minutes. It is not so much the exact number that counts, but more significantly, whether the same facial movements are repeated enough times to be taken into account.

When we do make a significant number of the same movements, these movements can be linked to how a person would react under stress, whether they would have the tendency to go into freeze, flight or fight. These tendencies will not only be exhibited when a great deal of stress is experienced, e.g. when in danger of being hit, or when involved in a major altercation, but will also show up when a person is under a small amount of stress. There is at least a bit of tension in every interaction – which is normal, as one is never really sure how another person will act. Our instinctive brain is always on the alert.

Behavioral Styles

Based on what we see in people’s faces we can predict their behavioral style. How will they react when feeling relaxed and comfortable, as opposed to how they will react when under pressure? What do they need in order to feel comfortable and to function well at work? What kind of leadership style do they have? How do other people need to act towards a person in order to get the best out of them?  These are all questions that can be answered by observing a face and checking how often certain movements around the eyes are made.

The first major advantage of this system is that – unlike other personality typing methods – you don’t need to fill out a questionnaire. We need about 10 minutes videoing you whilst you answer certain questions. And it’s not about the answers, it’s about what you do whilst you’re answering. You don’t even need to answer the questions if you don’t want to.

And the second advantage is that you cannot manipulate the outcome. You cannot stop yourself from making these facial movements, you do them instinctively and automatically.

Behavioral Strategies

You can however become aware of what you do and gain valuable knowledge of your behavioral strategies. Start looking at yourself from what we call a ‘meta-level,’ where you observe your instinctive reactions but do not act upon them. When you are aware of the physical sensations in your body you can consciously decide if you want to react differently. The initial reaction will occur, you can not stop it from happening. Don’t worry if you experience some kind of physical reaction and this is normal – it must simply be accepted. And then you have the opportunity to make the decision as to how you react.

Becoming aware of these first, instinctive reactions is very important if you want to get to know yourself better, and essential for self-acceptance of your individual nature.

I have noticed that since I have become more aware of my instinctive behavioral patterns I am more relaxed and less judgmental about myself and others. We all have our ways of dealing with certain situations, and one is not better or worse than the other. It’s just different.

With the help of this method, interactions become more relaxed and it is easier to prevent or resolve conflicts. The INSA method can be useful for team scans, personal coaching and conflict resolution.

Awareness is essential for career success. Take the time to think about your career, with our FREE Career Reflection Worksheet.


In a team scan of 6 people: one of the team members had predominantly fight in his repertoire and another one predominantly flight. People with fight have the need to be seen and like to present what they do or how they see things in a visual manner. People with flight have the need to be heard and like to talk about what they do or what they want. Once the two team members became aware of and understood their differing approaches, they could work out a means of communication that suited them both.

In a mediation session between two people, one of the people had mainly flight in his repertoire, the other mainly fight. People who have mainly flight like things to be ordered and structured. People who have mainly fight prefer things to be more flexible and can handle unpredictability better.

The first person wanted to put everything on paper and calculate what they each had to spend down to a cent. The second person was happy to leave things a bit more open.

Once both parties were aware of each other’s needs they were able to work out a solution that was agreeable to them both.


In personal coaching

A woman who came to see me said that she found it hard to stand her ground in conflicts. Afterwards she would always feel inadequate because she wanted to react but just couldn’t.  After a facial analysis, we saw that she had both fight and freeze in her repertoire. She realised that in conflict situations she would mainly go into freeze – she would switch off and not really react.

Once she realised this she was able to deal with stressful situations in a more constructive manner:  She would say to the other person in the conflict that she needed some time out. This gave her time to bring herself out of the freeze mode, after which she could think clearly again and react appropriately.

Working with a mentor is a perfect way to reach your full potential. Find out about the 3Plus mentoring programmes HERE.

If you are interested in a personal analysis or group workshop check out StrategicFaceProfilers (Workshops will normally be held in Dutch but if there is enough interest we can also give them in English)


Sofie-Ann Bracke Contributor
Sofie-Ann Bracke is a body coach with a mission to help people develop a better awareness of body language and posture, and to improve their physical, emotional and mental well-being.
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