Body Language 23 Micro Expressions

April 13, 2019

Of all the different types of body language gestures, I find the topic of Micro Expressions to be the most fascinating.

Let me first define the concept and why it contains so much information, then I will follow with some examples and references so you can appreciate this intriguing area of body language.

A micro expression is a very quick departure from the ambient body language, and it is usually in response to a reaction inside the person to something said or something going on in his mind.

The duration of a micro expression is usually about 1/30 of a second. It is faster than a blink, yet it contains all kinds of information about the mental state of the person.

The scary part about micro expressions is that the person doing it is almost never aware of doing it. It happens so fast and is part of the total mental state of the person that there is no cognition of it happening.

However, and this is the dangerous part, the gesture is very evident to the other person, either on a conscious or subconscious level.

Let me share an example so you can see how fleeting these expressions are. Here is a video of me talking about “Planting a Seed of Trust in the First 10 seconds.” I give several tips to enhance trust when first meeting another person. The first one is to watch your attitude.

I discuss how if you have positive mental self-talk prior to meeting another person, it shows all over your body. Then I switch from the positive to the negative and say “on the other hand if your mindset is negative, that is going to show as well.”

Just before I say “on the other hand” you can see a micro expression as I pull my mouth sideways to indicate I am about to go negative. In case you want to view just the expression, it occurs at 4:47 into the video.

I had no knowledge of doing this micro expression when I was making the video. It was only upon viewing it that I saw myself telegraphing my change of state from positive to negative. I did not know it, but anyone looking at me would have an indication that I was about to change state

Politicians

Micro expressions are frequent for politicians, and once you know how to read them you can tell when a politician is feeling less confident about what he or she is saying. A good example is John Kasich of Ohio. He has a non-contorted facial expression when he is comfortable, but when he is trying to answer a difficult question he pulls back the corners of his mouth in a micro expression. He will continue to do this roughly every 10 seconds or so as long as the topic makes him nervous.

Donald Trump projects discomfort by increasing his blinking rate whether in a one on one discussion or in a speech. If you just follow the number of times he blinks in a sentence it is easy to spot when he is stretching the truth or making something up. I suspect he is aware of the habit but really has no control over it.

Another interesting pattern with Trump is to watch how he shakes hands. With most people he shakes hands with his palm down, which represents a dominant position. It was interesting to watch his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, because Donald reached across the table with his palm up. This is generally thought to be a submissive gesture that was obvious for all the world to see.

Mitt Romney makes an interesting study in Micro Expressions. In speeches, he is normally quite steady on his feet with excellent eye contact. When the topic gets into the financial areas or taxes, he immediately starts to look down and shifts his weight back and forth. Both of these micro expressions show discomfort with the topic.

When gauging the validity of a micro expression, you need to determine if it is just part of a visual tick the person has or if it is actually in response to some thought or input. Just because someone twitches his lip does not necessarily mean he is reacting to something. It may be a personal tick that happens for no detectable reason. Try to observe the ambient body language before ascribing a quick irregular motion as a signal that the person is reacting to a stimulus.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Trust Seeds

April 22, 2012

We are all aware that interpersonal trust is precious. Trust is fragile; it is difficult to build, and easy to destroy. Most people believe it takes a very long time to build up trust with another person. There is an alternate view; if certain conditions are present when people first meet, a “seed” of trust is created upon which further trust will grow if both people continue to nurture it.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell describes the “Thin Slices” we humans use to size up other people within seconds of meeting them. We absorb an enormous amount of data instantly in the body language and the first words uttered by a new acquaintance.

I can recall meeting two influential men last year within seconds of each other. The first one gave me a solid handshake and a smile. He made great eye contact and asked me a question about my family. The second individual gave me a half-limp handshake while his eyes were scanning the room to see who else was there. He did smile, but it was forced and phony. Since that time, I have effortlessly developed a relationship of high trust with the first individual, and I have felt uncomfortable to be in the same room as the second one. The relationship with the first man took several months to develop, but the seed was planted in the first 5 seconds. With the second man, there was nothing for trust to grow on, so a relationship never kindled.

There are numerous things people instantly assess about us. Here are five conditions that allow you to plant a seed on which trust can grow.

Competence – People must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as being trustworthy. If they sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If they have doubts that you can deliver, then they will remain skeptical until there is enough time to test you.

Integrity – Do you have the character to do what is right? People need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that you always need to agree with others on every point, but people need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before they are going to trust you.

Reliability – People need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it actually can happen quickly. People can discern your reliability through the way you phrase intentions and even the body language you use to chat with them. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has no intention to actually do them.

Attitude – To gain trust, you need to project a positive attitude when another person is meeting you and ensure that it comes from the heart. Depending on the contextual background of the meeting, a smile is the usual way to show a positive attitude toward another person. Caveat: putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all. In a different context, a look of concern or sympathy might be a more appropriate way to show a positive attitude toward the other person. Your attitude and demeanor must be heartfelt and congruent with the situation.

Care – It is vital to project that you really do care about the other person. People might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about you. In reality, care can be displayed in hundreds of small gestures, just as selfishness can be easily spotted. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if you come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, you will not have the ability to detect this in yourself, but others will see it instantly.

On the back of my business card, I have a picture of a pile of various seeds. The words say:

Seeds for Growing Leaders
Plant in an environment of trust,
Sprinkle daily with humility,
Weed out negativity,
Place in the light of truth,
Be patient,
Enjoy the fruits of great leadership.

It does take a long time of consistent performance for a very strong bond of trust to build, but the first seeds of trust can be established quickly upon meeting someone. Make sure when you meet a new person that you genuinely project the five conditions above, and you will be well on your way to a trusting relationship.