Micro is having a moment. Technically, the word means extremely small, too small to see, even. But when tiny gestures add up in the workplace, they can cause a big reaction.
There are two micro terms you might have heard about. The first is micro expressions. Micro expressions are facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second. They’re almost undetectable, and they’re involuntary. You might not even know you’ve expressed anything. But they provide “emotional leakage” that exposes a person’s true emotions.
According to body language experts, no one can completely control their strong emotions; some indication of how they feel will leak out through micro expressions that may last just 1/25 of a second. The person will not be aware of their micro expressions, but people who learn to recognize them can detect hidden feelings and deception.
Dr. Paul Ekman pioneered research and coined the term micro expression; his research proves that emotions are universal and universally recognizable. If you’ve ever had the feeling that someone didn’t like you, or was not telling the truth, or was hiding something unpleasant, you might be reading micro expressions that didn’t register in your conscious mind.
Dr. Ekman says one sign of false emotion is asymmetry. When the eyes and mouth don’t match, generally, the person is trying to deceive you. Even if you’re no expert, you can tell a fake smile from a true smile. (Hint: the clue is in the orbicularis oculi muscle.) You may also see, in someone who is trying to deceive you, a verbal answer that is contradicted by their nonverbal language. Look for a negative headshake when they assure you they’ve done something, or an up and down nod of the head when they deny they’ve done something wrong. Watch for these signs when you’ve got a bad feeling about a conversation.
Body language expert Bruce Durham says that watching someone’s legs is the key to sensing when they are feeling something they don’t want to show you. When we feels threatened, the limbic system sends a jolt of adrenaline to our body (the classic flight or fight response.) The large muscles of the legs and thighs are one of the most important receptors of adrenaline – that’s how we’re able to get away from the threat.
When you say something that strikes fear, anger, or another strong negative emotion, a person may be able to control his features. But he most likely won’t be able to control his leg movement. Watch for a jerk of the leg – that’s a tell that you’ve hit a sore point.
Other deception tells include touching the nose or face and rapidly blinking eyes. We can sometimes control our expressions, but rarely our skin. When someone is angry, distressed, or experiencing any number of strong emotions (Including arousal), they will often flush. If someone has a skin tone that makes it hard to see flushing, look at their ears. People may deny that they’re angry, but the ears never lie.
Learning to read these signs and look for micro expressions will help you figure out of your perception of a situation or conversation is accurate; you often have feelings about emotional context or someone’s trustworthiness that are based on pure instinct, which many of us learn to override. The micro tells the other person is giving us provide proof of what’s happening, no matter how subtle or small.
In a future post, I’ll discuss another micro event that’s not so small.