“I speak two languages, Body and English.” - Mae West.
Body language is universal and the most popular and reliable language in the world. When we communicate our feelings, we get 55% of the information from body language, 38% from the tone of voice and only 7% from actual words.
Without even realizing it, we rely on body signals a lot more than on any verbal messages. For example, if you have watched a little baby, you will have noticed that if they raise the inner ends of their eyebrows it is a sure sign that a second later they will start crying. Or if you see that your boss is talking to one of his employees and your boss’s face is red, his nostrils are flared, his jaw is clenched, his eyebrows have moved inward and downward, and he is fixing a hard stare on the ‘victim’, you will know right away that it is not the best moment to ask for a pay rise.
Unlike verbal communication, body language and facial expressions provide more immediate feedback on another person’s mood, true thoughts and intentions.
Of course, not all of our emotions and thoughts do we actually feel comfortable displaying to others. We often try to hide them behind indifference, sarcasm, and ambiguous phrases, but as Nietzsche said, “One may sometimes tell a lie, but the grimace that accompanies tells the truth”.
A leading expert of Psychology of emotion and non verbal communication Paul Ekman has proved this to be true by discovering microexpressions (if you have seen the new series “Lie to me” you know exactly what I am talking about).
Even the best poker players in the world involuntary reveal their true emotions and thoughts for less than a fraction of a second. Microexpressions can be easily spotted if you record a person’s face and than slow down the video. Because these facial expressions tend to be very extreme and very fast they are invisible to an untrained eye. However, we may perceive them on an unconscious level.
If you have ever taken just one look at a person and immediately knew that you disliked them, the chances are that this person was involuntary displaying negative microexpressions to you. The person may act very friendly, say all the right words to you, flash a bright smile at you, but you will still feel uncomfortable around them. We often chalk it up to intuition or a ‘gut feeling’ when in reality we have based our opinion of the person on their facial microexpressions.
Dr. Ekman and his team have developed special tools: Micro Expression Training Tool (METT) that can improve our ability to spot concealed emotions and The Subtle Expression Training Tool (SETT) to help us identify the first signs if someone is becoming emotional.
Research has demonstrated that about 85% of people can improve their ability to recognize microexpressions in just one hour, just by using Dr. Ekman’s software! However, there is a catch…
Microexpressions can tell you what the person is feeling, but not WHY they are feeling it. For example, your daughter comes home way past the curfew hour and when she starts explaining why is she late, you spot a fear microexpression. She might be afraid that she will be caught in her lie. But she might also be afraid that even though she tells you the truth you will not believe her.
Learning to interpret correctly people’s facial expressions can help us a great deal in our professional and personal life, but it is important to remember that we are not mind readers (well at least most of us are not ). By jumping too quickly to conclusions about why a person is flashing certain emotions, we can actually create even bigger misunderstandings and communication barriers.