RONALD RIGGIO, PHD, HAS BEEN doing research
at the California State University at Fullerton for over seventeen
years. Hes been trying to find out what makes a person
attractive to other people. He officially studies charisma.
One important factor Riggio has discovered is the importance
of emotional expressivity: the ability to show your
emotions on your face so people can easily read how you feel.
People who dont show much emotion on their faces dont
attract us very much. Thats one of his findings that seems
But Riggio found something thats
not so obvious: Charisma also requires the ability to not
show emotions. He calls it emotional control. Its
what Im calling a poker face because when you
play poker and you get an exceptionally good hand, you dont
want anyone else to know. Likewise, if you get a poor hand, you
dont want them to know it gives your opponents an
advantage in betting against you. While youre playing poker,
the basic rule of thumb is to not ever register your feelings
overtly. The only thing that might give you away is the look
on your face, so you have to show as little emotion on your face
as you can.
Improving your ability to have a poker
face when you need it (and only when you need it) can
increase your effectiveness with people. Why? Because emotions
are contagious when they can be seen. When you look at
someone who is laughing, it tends to make you feel like laughing,
doesnt it? Sure. And when you see someone crying, it can
make you feel a little sad. Naturally. Thats why good actors
are so highly valued. They can make us feel emotions. We all
have a tendency to experience the emotion we see on someones
But, you may ask, whats wrong with
Nothing really, except sometimes. The problem
is that there are some emotions you wouldnt want another
to have. Two examples are anger and social awkwardness. When
youre angry and you show it, the other person will probably
become angry or defensive or afraid to some degree they
can see on your face your blood pressure is up, and their body
will respond by increasing their own blood pressure. This rising
intensity tends to interfere with communication.
Something similar happens when a person
feels socially awkward. When you talk with someone who feels
awkward because they dont quite know what to do and
it shows, you feel somewhat awkward, too, dont you?
Or how about when someone giving a speech feels uncomfortable
up there in front of the group? Dont you also squirm in
your seat a little just watching?
In these kinds of circumstances, the people
would be better off and the people theyre talking to would
be better off if they would learn to conceal those particular
emotions when they feel them.
We have all learned there are times when
it is not appropriate to say certain things. You dont
say to a widow at the funeral the dude owed me money.
At certain times and for certain situations, we all know some
things are better left unsaid. Well, the emotion on your face
is nonverbal, but it is still communication, and sometimes
it is counterproductive to say nonverbally Im angry
or I feel awkward.
The good news is that you can learn
to put on a poker face when you need it. Im not suggesting
phoniness or pretending youre happy when youre angry.
But there are times it helps to show no emotion on your
face. Its a skill like any other, and it can be improved
Practice having a poker
face when you feel negative emotions.