The truth is written all over our faces.
It is often hard to understand what people really mean. Even when they tell you they are happy with your (fill in the blank), you may have a sneaking suspicion they aren’t being truthful. Perhaps you have a hunch. Or maybe you caught a glimpse of a microexpression that told you otherwise. Microexpressions are fleeting, involuntary human facial expressions that reveal true feelings. How fleeting? They last less than a second. Understanding them can change everything about your interactions with clients, groups, employees, your kids or your spouse.
Paul Ekman is mostly likely to be remembered at the co-discoverer of microexpressions. Perhaps you learned of his work through the 2009 tv drama, Lie To Me, where the protagonist, Cal Lightman, and his team (modeled on the Paul Ekman Group), were a crack crime solving group consulting with the police because of their skill at reading micro expressions and ferreting out the lies.
Microexpressions can be difficult to spot because they last only fractions of a second, but if you know what to look for it gets easier. They express the six universal emotions: Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise, Happiness and an all-important sixth emotion, Contempt.
Here they are some of them demonstrated by the actor, Tim Roth, who portrayed Cal Lightman in Lie to Me. (You will probably see that contempt is included and happiness is missing).
If you watched Lie to Me you will be fascinated by a visit to the Ekman group website where each episode is critiqued. https://www.paulekman.com/lie-to-me/season-1-critique/ Ekman consulted on the show and like, Cal Lightman, consults with the CIA and the FBI mostly in the role of teacher and trainer. While the tv show takes dramatic detours into Cal Lightman’s private life, watching the show is a very helpful and painless way to learn about microexpressions and lie detection. All three seasons are available on Netflix.
The most powerful use of microexpressions is to understand true feelings when what is said doesn’t match the underlying emotional truth. A micro is always a sign of a concealed emotion. In other words, if a client says they are happy but shows a microexpression of fear, something is up. I have actually seen photographs of CEO’s on company websites where the executive is showing a microexpression of contempt. Ooops! Sometimes microexpressions reveal what the person is hiding from himself (repressed) and sometimes they show the true feeling that a person is deliberately trying to conceal (suppressed). Amazingly, the same microexpressions are used by tribes who had no contact with the outside world, basically by everyone regardless of age, gender, nationality. They are true and pure expressions from the brain.
Whether consulting with a client, leading a staff meeting, or just talking with your kids, microexpressions are an invaluable tool.
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