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Seven Universal Emotions


Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI) is awareness of your own emotions and those of other people (social awareness), and the ability to use the emotional information to manage self and others effectively.  Studies have found that the greater the EQ, the higher the organization can expect to have exemplary leadership performance.

In the 1970’s, through research on remote tribes of people in Papua, New Guinea, American psychologist Paul Ekman found there to be seven emotions which can be universally recognized.  He discovered this by showing pictures to the Guineans, who had never had exposure to any form of media and were geographically isolated; therefore, they could not have learned the meaning of expressions from other groups.  Ekman’s work was influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory, which was expressed a hundred years earlier, that emotions are biologically determined.


Seven Emotions

  1. Anger
  2. Disgust
  3. Fear
  4. Happiness
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise
  7. Contempt

Though emotional expression is universal, emotional triggers vary by individual and culture, and “scripts” from the past can affect their intensity.  Ekman’s research proved that emotional triggers create new pathways in the brain.  In terms of controlling emotions, the objective is not to turn them off; rather, it would be effective to develop the habit of attentiveness (i.e. mindfulness), and learn ways to cool our emotional triggers in order to avoid destructive emotional episodes.

So, let’s describe and show you what each emotion looks like…

Anger: Brows down and together, Lips narrowed and pressed, Eyes glare

Di Blasio

NYC Mayor Di Blasio


Disgust: Upper lip is raised, Nose bridge is wrinkled, Cheeks raised


Sarah Palin, Tyra Banks


Fear: Brows raised and pulled together, Upper eyelids raised, Lower eyelids tensed, Mouth opened slightly and horizontally – stretched back towards ears

Agassi9-11_panic 1

Andre Agassi, 9/11 witness


Happiness: Eyelids narrowed, Crow’s feet wrinkles, Cheeks pushed up, Lip corners raised


Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer


Sadness: Upper eyelids drooped, Lip corners pulled down slightly


Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford

Surprise: Brows arched, Eyes widened, Jaw drops slightly


Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates


Contempt: Lip corner tightened and raised on one side of the mouth.

Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Simon Cowell, OJ Simpson


So, is she happy?


Mona Lisa

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a complete Ekman fan, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit

© Rossina Gil, 2015


Charles Darwin. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Paul Ekman. Emotions Revealed.


Judgment Day


Most people dislike judgment and wish to escape it. However, judgment is much like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog’s Day…it is there every day, and there’s not too much one can do about it, but get used to it and make the most of it.

Psychologist Paul Ekman argues that judgment is essential to survival. It is a part of our hardwiring, since judgment stems from our EMOTIONS. In fact, Dr. Ekman asserts that there are seven universal emotions: Contempt, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, and Joy. These emotions are called universal because he found that the expressions for these emotions are understood regardless of one’s cultural origin. To test his theory, he brought pictures of authentic emotions to a remote village in Papua, New Guinea – a place where civilization was left untouched by the outside world and could not have “learned” these expressions through media or human contact. His landmark study revealed that these seven emotions are innate and could be accurately assessed by other humans. So, all humankind is born with the ability to “judge” or ascertain situations.


But Isn’t Judgment Bad?

All judgmental comments are helpful in understanding the NEEDS of the individual placing the judgment; hence, the utilization of Performance Management Reviews and 360-Reviews in the workplace. Subjective assessments can be mitigated by including all comments; not just the critical and hypercritical feedback.

Supervisors, and those without Direct Reports, can make more effective judgments in a variety of ways. First and foremost, slow down the knee-jerk reaction by practicing inquiry. Then, contemplate the three areas I reiterate in my blogs, namely: EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS, and ACTIONS.

EMOTIONS. Dr. Ekman found that emotions are a psycho-physiological (i.e. mind/body) experience that drive a person to action. As infants, we experienced emotion before cognitive development. So, when someone expresses an emotion and we do not understand the reason or intensity of the emotion, we have very likely at some point, and under different circumstances, experienced the same emotion and can, therefore, relate to the person using critical judgment. RECOMMENDATIONS: Practice compassion. Ask yourself, have I ever been disappointed, frustrated, confused, etc. by XYZ (e.g. someone offering me direct feedback, not giving enough face-time, not communicating “enough,” using words I can’t understand)?

THOUGHTS. Each employee moves forward making a series of daily decisions based on their thinking process. Reasoning is usually a combination of Nature (i.e. genetic/internal) and Nurture (i.e. environment/external). For example, a supervisor could be a Linear thinker and can get lost if someone jumps from A to C, without having discussed B. Men are typically Linear thinkers. If s/he is Linear and has a Systemic thinker for a direct report, then conflict can ensue because the supervisor could feel frequently lost and may attribute that to the direct report. A Systemic thinker can easily jump from A to D (or even G) because that is how his/her mind works. Women are typically Systemic thinkers, which is why there are jokes about how complicated a woman’s mind is (7-lane highway or massive circuitry) versus a man’s mind (dirt road or a one-push button). RECOMMENDATIONS: Practice Inclusion and Equifinality. This means that “there are more ways than one to skin a cat.” Plus, diverse thinking increases your competitive advantage (See blog Women in Corporate Leadership).

ACTIONS. Since we are the product of the sum of our experiences, we tend to be more receptive towards certain individuals than to others. At work, one supervisor/direct report might think that you’re fantastic, while the next one may not. How does this happen? Experiences vary by individual and that is what impacts and shapes expectations. Lack of experience usually reduces the ability to practice inclusion and equifinality; and if s/he has little to no experience and lacks compassion, then you are S.O.L. (i.e. sh*t out of luck). RECOMMENDATIONS: Recognize how experience contributes “added value.” Experience, unless dysfunctional, never diminishes value contribution and must be optimized.

Suspend judgment. Embrace emotion, question it, and do no harm.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


Ekman, Paul. Emotions Revealed. (New York: Owl Books, 2003).

©Rossina Gil, 2013