Facial expression

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An ability to 'read' and interpret the facial expressions of your partner will improve your chances of successful flirting, as will awareness of what you are signalling with your own expressions.

Some expressions can be effective even from a distance, as in the 'across a crowded room' encounter with a stranger. The 'eyebrow-flash', for example, which involves raising the eyebrows very briefly - for about one-sixth of a second - is used almost universally as a long-distance greeting signal. When you see someone you know, but are not near enough to speak, the eyebrow-flash shows that you have noticed and recognised them.

We all use this non-verbal "Hello!" in situations where we cannot use the verbal equivalent, either because of distance or social convention. Watch a video of Andrew and Fergie's wedding, for example, and you will see that Fergie performs frequent eyebrow-flashes as she walks down the aisle. Social etiquette does not allow a bride to call out cheery greetings to her friends and relations during the ceremony, but the highly sociable Fergie is clearly unable to refrain from signalling the same greetings with her eyebrows.

If you are desperate to attract the attention of an attractive stranger across a crowded party, you could try an eyebrow-flash. This should make your target think that you must be a friend or acquaintance, even though he or she does not recognise you. When you approach, your target may thus already be wondering who you are. You can, if you are skilful, use this confusion to initiate a lively discussion about where you might have met before. Such conversations inevitably centre on possible shared interests or friends or habits, and invariably involve mutual disclosure of at least some personal information. As you will

learn from the 'Verbal flirting' sections of this Guide, these are essential ingredients of successful flirting. So, assuming your target finds you attractive, an eyebrow-flash with appropriate follow-up could leapfrog you into instant intimacy.

Two warnings are necessary here:

1) If your target does not find you attractive, the eyebrow-flash strategy may backfire, as the confusion over whether or not you already know each other will be experienced as unpleasant and annoying, rather than amusing.

2) Do not use the eyebrow-flash in Japan, where it has definite sexual connotations and is therefore never used as a greeting signal.

If your target is attracted to you, this may be more evident in facial expressions than in words. Studies have found that women are generally better than men at reading these expressions, but that both sexes have equal difficulty in seeing through people's expressions when they are controlling their faces to hide their real feelings.

The problem is that although faces do express genuine feelings, any facial expression that occurs naturally can also be produced artificially for a social purpose. Smiles and frowns, to take the most obvious examples, can be spontaneous expressions of happiness or anger, but they can also be manufactured as deliberate signals, such as frowning to indicate doubt or displeasure, smiling to signal approval or agreement, etc. Feelings can also be hidden under a 'social' smile, a 'stiff upper lip' or a blank, 'inscrutable' expression.

Despite this potential for 'deceit', we rely more on facial expressions than on any other aspect of body language. In conversation, we watch our companions' faces rather than their hands or feet, and rely on their facial signals to tell us what effect we are having, and how to interpret what they say. Although people are better at controlling their facial expressions than other aspects of body language, there is still some 'leakage', and the following clues will help you to detect insincerity.

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