Facial Expression

Facial palsy can cause problems with non-verbal communication. Having a facial palsy may make the person feel self-conscious and influence the way they use non-verbal communication, for example, eye contact and smiling.

How does facial palsy change your non-verbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is how you communicate without using words. We use non-verbal communication all the time and we are mostly unaware of this. Below are some examples of non-verbal communication:

  • Smiling
  • Scowling
  • Pouting
  • Winking
  • Nodding
  • Making eye contact
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Gesture
  • The way you stand or hold your arms
  • The way you dress, wear make-up and choose your clothes all communicate something.

Non-verbal communication can be affected when you have a facial palsy in the following ways

  • Being self-conscious may make you lower your head and avoid eye contact.
  • You may prevent yourself from smiling so that your asymmetry isn’t so obvious. As a result people may think you are unfriendly because you don’t smile.
  • You may develop gestures to try and mask your asymmetry, for example, covering your mouth with your hand. This will make it harder for people to understand you.
  • You may bother less with your physical appearance because you don’t like looking in the mirror.

What can help?

  • Always look at the person you are communicating with in order to show that you are interested in them and to hold their attention. Looking away may encourage the other person to look or search harder to make eye contact with you. Avoiding eye contact may also convey disinterest.
  • Always try at least a small smile – it will show in your eyes as well.
  • If meeting someone in the street, a ‘head nod’ is as good as a smile for a passing greeting.
  • Try not to cover your mouth with your hand when speaking.
  • Give the listener good eye contact to show that you are interested.
  • If you don’t feel you can smile, give encouraging gestures to show you are listening carefully, for example, small, gentle head nodding to show you understand or empathise.
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Last reviewed: 05-01-2015    ||    Next review due: 05-01-2017