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


Body Language 21 The Mouth

March 30, 2019

Body language gestures of the mouth are usually straightforward, but there are some tricky nuances to consider. First we will consider the most recognizable gesture: the smile. Actually, there are many different types of smiles to identify.

Smiles

Duchenne Smile – This is a highly recognizable smile, but only a small portion of the population can model it well. The smile actually starts with the eyes. You can see a twinkle in the eye and a slight but natural squint that produces crow’s feet at the corners. The cheeks are elevated and the entire face, including the mouth takes the shape of an oval.

The corners of the mouth are raised through the Zygomatic Major Muscle. Those people who can accomplish a Duchenne Smile have a huge advantage, because trying to force the face to this configuration often looks phony as described below.

Non-Duchenne Smile – this is where the mouth forms a shape by raising the corners of the mouth through the Zygomatic Major muscle but without the effect of “smiling eyes.” The smile is confined to the mouth region only, so it does not have the holistic appearance of a true Duchenne Smile and often is interpreted as being duplicitous or at least insincere.

The Botox Smile – This smile looks pasted on and is perfunctory for service people who wish to look pleasant but it comes across as insincere. It is also known as the “Pan Am” smile after flight attendants who were instructed to flash a pasted-on smile at each customer. This smile is also seen on the faces of beauty pageant contestants while they are being judged. My friend Jeanne Robertson has a whole comedy routine about how she learned to smile continuously while competing in the Miss America Pageant.

Tight Lipped Smile – As the name implies, this smile is characterized by not showing any teeth. Depending on the circumstance, this smile can convey approval or precaution. According to Bill Acheson in “Advanced Body Language,” one cardinal rule when meeting a person for the first time is to smile naturally but make it broad enough that you show your teeth. He explains that the custom is a carry over from when the condition of a person’s teeth was an indication of health and status.

Pulled Smile – also know as the “smug smile” this is where the mouth is pulled to a smile configuration, but on one side only. Generally, this configuration suggests some form of agenda going on, and it is not a smile that invites high trust in the individual. The extreme form of a pulled smile was demonstrated by McKayla Maroney in the 2012 Olympics when she was awarded the silver medal in the vault. She contorted her face pulling her mouth entirely to one side to indicate she was “not impressed” with the performance of the other gymnasts or the judges. This contorted smile was made into a meme that became a PR issue.

Laughing Smile – Occasionally you will see a person make a smile with his or her mouth wide open. This is known in some circles as the “Marilyn Monroe” smile. It is as if there was a laugh that was frozen in time. This smile also tends to lower trust, because it is seen as less than authentic.

Frowns

Classic Frown – We are all familiar with a frown brought on by the person feeling negative about something. The lips are pulled downward and often the head and gaze go down as well. This is the look you see on football players’ faces when they have lost a close game. Another place to see a classic frown is at a funeral. This is also the habitual expression on the face of Donald Trump when he is trying to negotiate something.

Clenched Teeth – This type of frown has the additional element of clenched teeth, which causes the jaw muscle to pop out. I once had a boss who did this whenever he was really upset. It was a telltale sign to watch out if his jaws popped out and became red.

Puffed Cheeks – Occasionally you may encounter a person who frowns but then fills up his cheeks with air. This is an indication of exasperation; it is like the person is getting ready to blow up.

Other Mouth Gestures

Puckering up – This gesture can have different meanings based on the context. It may mean that the person is deep in thought. It could mean you are getting the kiss off by the individual. If done softly and delicately it may be an actual signal of blowing a kiss.

Twitching – Some people will have an involuntary twitch. Most common is the twitch of the upper lip. If you see this gesture in a person, it may be habitual and be of little significance in terms of body language. Watch to see if the twitch comes just after a particular person addresses him or when something that may be sensitive comes up. If a person twitches during stressful conversation, it is a great clue to use when observing his level of stress in the future. I knew a university dean who would twitch whenever he was stressed. He was aware that he was sending signals, but he could not stop it.

Covering the Mouth – The classical interpretation of this gesture is that the person is lying or telling a half truth and covers his mouth to avoid detection. That may be true in some circumstances, but covering the mouth can also be a reaction to being embarrassed; it may also be out of fear of halitosis the discovery of bad teeth. The best advice when you see a person covering his or her mouth is to gather more data to see if there is some pattern.

Wiping the Mouth – This may be a function of the saliva getting into the corners of the mouth. Some people struggle with that problem and need to wipe their mouth many times when speaking in public.

Biting the Lip – This gesture is usually related to insecurity, and it is normally the lower lip that is involved. As with all body language, it is important to notice the pattern of making this gesture. If it is at a logical point where the person may be feeling insecure, then the interpretation is likely correct. There could be another cause, so be alert for other signals. Bill Clinton was famous for using this gesture in his more infamous moments.

The gestures in this article were some of the more common mouth configurations you are likely to encounter. There are other, more subtle gestures you may see as well. The best advice is to keep track of a person’s habitual behavior, and then you can use that baseline pattern to assess what is happing with the individual.

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


Body Language 6 Folding Arms

December 15, 2018

Folding arms when listening or speaking is a classic type of body language that has a few different interpretations depending on the circumstances when it is being applied.

For example, if a student is sitting in a boring classroom for a long period and has folded arms, it would be a good idea to check the temperature of the room. The wrapping of arms around the torso helps to conserve heat and having the fingers wedged into the arm pits helps them from feeling cold due to poor circulation.

Folding arms can be somewhat different for women than men due to anatomical differences. Crossed arms gives a feeling of wholeness or snugness to a female that is not usually experienced by men. One can also deduce meaning from how the fingers are displayed. In this image, the fingers are relaxed, and when coupled with a natural smile, it basically looks like just a comfortable pose for the woman. It would likely mean something different if her fingers were clenched onto the arms. In that case, she would appear to be upset.

The classic meaning ascribed to folded arms is that of a person being defensive or closed. If someone is in a discussion in a warm room and when the topic becomes something related to that person’s performance, you can often see the arms being crossed as a symbol of defensiveness. The message received by the other person is that the person is not entirely comfortable with this conversation and wants to be protected from damage. The gesture generally works against trust because information is perceived to be blocked.

Many signals in body language have explanations in anatomy. They are exaggerated contortions that relate to a specific and understandable bodily need at that time. In this instance the person is protecting the solar plexus, the one part of the mammal that is not protected by a skeletal structure, from possible harm. The motion is almost always done unconsciously, but it is a reasonable reaction to being attacked.

Political individuals are not exempt from using crossed arms. The classic arm crosser is Donald Trump. He habitually sits in meetings with arms crossed, and it is usually as show of defiance or power. He normally wears a suit coat, which makes the arm crossing look particularly awkward, but it is a common posture for him. He also normally hides his fingers when crossing his arms which adds to the awkward appearance. Coupled with his habitual facial expression, the message becomes, “I am listening at the moment, and when you are through, I will tell you how it’s going to be.” He also keeps his arms crossed when both listening and talking.

A person who crosses arms and uncrosses them repeatedly within the space of a minute or so is emoting uncertainty or anxiety. The message is that the person is uncomfortable and does not know what to do with his or her arms and hands. If you encounter a person acting in this manner, try to give the individual the opportunity to talk. Switching from an absorbing mode to an advocating mode will often allow the person to calm down and relax a bit.

In summary, crossing arms is a common type of body language that can easily be misunderstood. Most commonly, it is interpreted as a gesture of defensiveness or being closed. As with all body language, you must consider the context in which the gesture is occurring and the details of the gesture itself.

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