Body Language 89 Clusters

August 3, 2020

I have been studying body language since my wife bought me a book on it in 1979.
There is still much to learn, and I will never can know it all.

We sometimes get fooled when observing another person’s body language. That can happen for a number of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1. The person may be from a different culture or background from us.
2. We fail to take into account what is happening around the BL signal – the context.
3. We rely on a single gesture to imply full meaning rather than clusters.
4. The gestures we are seeing are not consistent with the words the person is using.

The third point is the topic of this article. Looking at a single gesture and applying meaning has a significant danger for misinterpretation.

If you are observing another person making three or more gestures that are all consistent, then your chances of accurately decoding the emotion being conveyed are greatly increased.

For example, If I see a person with raised eyebrows, I might interpret it as worry or anxiety. That may or may not be true. People raise their eyebrows for a number of reasons.

However, if I witness a person who is shuffling weight from one foot to the other while putting a finger in his collar and moving it back and forth while simultaneously showing a frown with the mouth and raised eyebrows, I can be quite certain this person is experiencing anxiety.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose I see a woman whose eyebrows are furrowed. I may assume she is angry, and that could be the case. But, if I also witness her with flared nostrils, hands on her hips, shoulders back, chin jutting forward, I had better get ready to do some serious groveling.

Another trick is to observe the fleeting gestures, also called “micro expressions.” These gestures happen so quickly we might miss them if we are not on the alert.

A micro expression may be as short as 1/30th of a second. Observing a series of micro expressions that all point in the same direction is a great way to improve the accuracy of reading the body language signals.

I will share an example of a micro expression using myself as the guinea pig. Here is a link to a short (10 minute) video I once did on “Planting a Seed of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.

Note: The material on shaking hands in this video no longer applies until conditions with COVID-19 change, but you can see a great example of a micro expression at 4 minutes and 46 seconds into the video.

At that point in the video, I am talking about ways to show your eagerness to meet the other person.

I first describe your body language if you are really positive and have a good feeling when approaching the other person. I then go on to explain the negative side, if you are not particularly happy about meeting this person.

Just before going with the negative side, I pull my mouth tight and to the side. It is only for a fraction of a second, but that gesture is a micro expression that signals that I am moving from a positive frame of mind to a negative one.

When I was making the video, I had no knowledge that I was making a micro expression. It was only when I reviewed the video later that I saw the gesture.

It is typical that we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of the body language signals we are sending to others. Observing all of the body language signals that are coming in, including the micro expressions will enhance your ability to detect a cluster.

You also need to consider that a person can be experiencing multiple emotions at the same time. For example, a person may be feeling embarrassed with a hint or regret or even grief. That would allow for multiple signals to be sent simultaneously. The permutations are countless.

Get in the habit of looking for auxiliary clues when witnessing emotions expressed through body language. If you make a conscious effort to look for multiple signals, you will gain strength in this important life skill.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”

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


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 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, or 585.392.7763