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Micro Expressions for Business: How to spot true feelings


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Forget the X-ray vision that lets you see through walls – Microexpressions are your newest superpower, letting you read emotions like a book (in an instant).

Whether it’s taking down villains like Captain America or making friends with new people at work, understanding microexpressions could be exactly what you need to get ahead and have more success in business!

Want to know more? Let’s start with the basics:

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A microexpression is a facial expression that only lasts for a short moment. It’s the innate result of an individual trying to conceal their true emotions in response to stimuli they experience, but are unable due to conflicting involuntary and voluntary reactions. 

These small glimpses into what’s really going on inside our minds can happen several times per hour if there are enough stimuli. For example, if someone feels sad but they want to appear as though they’re happy – it can result in cognitive confusion over what their real emotion may be.

This conflict between feeling multiple emotions leads them to express sadness… albeit briefly, before then attempting to hide any traces of vulnerability or unhappiness by putting on a fake smiling expression again.

All these facial expressions are the result of one or more movements on a person’s 43 facial muscles. These voluntary and involuntary actions convey many different moods, emotions, and thoughts – and they clearly show people’s feelings without them needing to say a word!! 

Dr Paul Ekman (a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions) discovered that facial expressions are universal, which means, for example, someone born in India makes the same expression when responding to fear as would someone born in America or Europe.

Research shows children born blind also have the same facial expressions, which led some psychologists to believe they aren’t taught.

According to Vanessa Van Edwards – the lead investigator at the Science of People – there are over 10,000 micro facial expressions, but in this article, my focus will be the 7 major ones.

What are the 7 universal facial expressions and how to recognise them?

You probably know that there are seven emotions and each emotion is expressed through a different set of muscles in the face and body for a particular situation.

These emotions are:

Anger, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise and Contempt.

Let’s explore the characteristics of each one of them and how they are conveyed:

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  • The eyebrows are lowered and drawn together
  • Lower lip is tensed
  • Vertical lines appear between the eyebrows
  • Eyes are in hard stare or bulging
  • Lips can be pressed firmly together, with corners down, or in a square shape as if shouting
  • Nostrils may be dilated
  • The lower jaw juts out
  • People find angry people less trustworthy
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  • Eyebrows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line
  • Wrinkles in the forehead are in the centre between the eyebrows, not across
  • The upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up
  • Eyes have the upper white showing, but not the lower white
  • The mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back
  • We mirror other people’s fear as a natural survival response
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  • Corners of the lips are drawn back and up
  • Mouth may or may not be parted, teeth exposed
  • A wrinkle runs from the outer nose to the outer lip
  • Cheeks are raised
  • Lower eyelid may show wrinkles or be tense
  • Crow’s feet can be seen near the outside of the eyes
  • People try to fake their happiness all the time, but true happiness cannot be faked
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  • Inner corners of the eyebrows are drawn in and then up
  • Skin below the eyebrows is triangulated, with inner corner up
  • Corner of the lips are drawn down
  • Jaw comes up
  • Lower lip pouts out
  • the hardest micro expression to fake
  • the hardest micro-expressions to correctly identify
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  • Eyes are narrowed
  • Upper lip is raised
  • Upper teeth may be exposed
  • Nose is wrinkled
  • Cheeks are raised
  • When we squint our eyes in disgust, our visual acuity increases, helping us find the origin of our disgust
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  • The eyebrows are raised and curved
  • The skin below the brow is stretched
  • Horizontal wrinkles show across the forehead
  • Eyelids are opened, white of the eye showing above and below
  • Jaw drops open and teeth are parted but there is no tension or stretching of the mouth
  • According to a 2014 study by New York University, when you raise your eyebrows and widen your eyes, this can help you look trustworthy. When you widen your eyes, you signal to others around you that you have nothing to hide.
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  • One side of the mouth is raised
  • It’s the only one of the 7 universal micro-expressions that are asymmetrical
  • When a person feels contempt, he or she may feel like they are right and the other person is wrong. If you see the contempt micro expression, that’s a bad sign.
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Having learned what the main facial expressions are, how can you put them to work for your business to gain an edge over your competitors?

Harald Fanderl, a sales and marketing expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry says that you can increase customer satisfaction by reading their body language.

When customer emotions are appropriately addressed, they are more likely to be satisfied with the services provided and to remain loyal to your business for the long run.

Check these tips:

★ When a person’s lips are slightly turned up, and their eyes are relaxed and gazing, it might mean they’re happy or optimistic.

Chances are if a person is walking around contently with a smiling face, they’re most likely browsing for something specific – so introduce yourself!

Offer assistance and explain what services or products you have available when prompted!

★ Does your customer seem anxious, uncomfortable or distracted? In that case, they might be feeling stressed due to unfamiliar surroundings. This can lead to increased insecurities and decision-making difficulties.

Making sure that your customers are comfortable with the environment by explaining products/services in simple terms or providing specific recommendations can help. By doing so, you’ll garner their trust – and they may end up becoming your loyal client.

★ When someone yawns, avoids eye contact or doesn’t seem engaged when talking to you, chances are they’re bored or uninterested. When this happens, take the hint and give them space.

As experience points out, it’s important to know that “people buy when they’re ready to” so try not to hover around trying to sell something prematurely. Instead, after you’ve introduced yourself and relayed the necessary information, give your customers an out and let them know where to find you if they need help.

★ Do your customers seem confused or absorbed by their thoughts as they scrunch their noses or touch their faces? You may be able to swoop right in and offer help!

You should ask them if they have any questions about a product or service before they leave. If they’re deciding whether to make a purchase, demonstrate how well the products or services will meet their needs!

★ Angry customers can be difficult to deal with, but understanding their facial expressions and body language is a must. If you see the signs, try asking them what’s wrong, finding out how you can help or apologise if warranted – just don’t get defensive!

Provide possible solutions and focus on good customer service.

★ Is that a smile you noticed? If a customer comes into contact with your brand and appears truly satisfied with your products or services, thank them!

Take advantage of this connection and invite customers to subscribe to your newsletter to learn about upcoming events or sales. 

★ One of my favourite moments is when customers experience the WOW factor. When you notice this facial expression (open jaw and wide eyes) be sure to take advantage of the moment.

The Wow Factor in Business often has to do with exceptional customer service when an employee gives the customer more than he expected or something he had no idea he needed.

Your ability to deliver the “WOW Factor” will give you the opportunity for more referrals and reviews at no additional cost.

★ Finally, my most important tip: Do not take micro-expressions for granted. For example, imagine you’re in a meeting and a member of your team seems disgusted.

You may think they’re totally disagreeing with you based on their facial expressions, but what if they’re just not listening to what you’re saying and thinking about something else?

Try to capture their attention and then make your conclusion when you’re sure the person is all ears to what you are saying. 

When negotiating with others, you can use microexpressions to your advantage. You will be able to better understand people by paying attention to how their expressions change, and you will be able to control the dialogue more effectively by identifying feedback that they may not even be aware of!

The ability to read others’ facial expressions might be one of the keys to business success.

Please let me know if this is something you are interested in and get in touch if you’d like to learn more than what I’ve just outlined here.