What are Your Eyebrows Saying?

One of the things that I didn’t expect when moving to a new culture was just how easily I would adapt to certain aspects and sometimes without even realizing it.  For instance, I thought body language was pretty universal. But now, when indicating for someone to come, I don’t just use my pointer finger. I understand that you can use all four fingers to communicate that and your hand is positioned differently.

One day my daughter suddenly pointed to something in the kitchen with her lips. Yes, with her lips! I was surprised but then realized that both of her hands were busy. How else do you point if your hands are full? A nod of the head is a little too unspecific, but now using your lips and your head in the direction of the item … well, it is much easier to see what one is pointing at! Try it!

It’s actually a real thing!  In fact, www.semanticsscholar.org defines it this way:  “‘Lippointing‘ is a widespread but little-documented form of deictic gesture, which may involve not just protruding one or both lips, but also raising the head, sticking out the chin, lifting the eyebrows, among other things.”  It is so much more involved than just pursing your lips!

When I came back to America for a visit, I also realized that I was using my eyebrows as a primary form of non-verbal communication. I am not sure if my American friends noticed, but I would respond to them by raising my eyebrows.  (I guess they would have noticed if they actually looked at me in the face long enough, but this isn’t really culturally appropriate there.)  I think I most often use my eyebrows as I drive down the road or in a conversation. Ugandans often look at me in the face even when I am driving and I somehow don’t notice them soon enough. I have just enough time to respond with a lifting of my eyebrows to acknowledge and greet them briefly. My hands are busy on the steering wheel and it is just easier! Raising your eyebrows can be an acknowledgement like that or it can be made in agreement during a conversation. It shows you are engaged and listening. It really is a great skill to acquire!

If you read about ‘eyebrow raising’ on the internet, psychology websites claim that it is a universally unconscious acknowledgement of someone from a distance wherein one is possibly preparing for social interaction.  Perhaps you do this without knowing it yourself.   Simply put, it says, “Hey, there!”   Some even claim it means other things like, “I’m surprised to see you.”  Or perhaps it’s a fear reaction like, “I’m intimidated by you.”

There are likely other nonverbal communication responses that I haven’t even realized yet that I am doing.  Think about it.  We do them all the time and it helps us understand one another more thoroughly as we communicate.  Have I made you feel self-conscious yet?  Pay attention as you converse with others and see just what expressions do you do that complement your verbal communication?

But if you see me and I “greet” you with my eyebrows or say “yes” in agreement while you are speaking to me, now you know what my eyebrows are saying to you!  Give it a try!!! You might just pick up the habit, too!

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