The Art of Reading Body Language and Micro Expressions

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People view body language as the most effective way to tell the difference between truth and deception. It’s a form of understudied communication that accurately reflects our feelings, sometimes, in spite of what we’re saying. Our bodies either serve as reinforcements of what we’re saying, or telltale contradictions.

This subject has simpler expressions we may be inherently capable of deciphering, but it’s also comprised of layers of information we subconsciously emit, moment-to-moment. The thing about our subconscious is it’s always telling the truth, or at least revealing our deeply held beliefs that we consider to be truths.

Micro Expressions

While body language represents a host of involuntary physical movements and responses, micro expressions are a component of body language that tell us with 100% certainty, what another person is actually feeling. We have seven universal micro expressions that we demonstrate: shock, anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and contempt.

Shock serves as one of the easiest expressions to read, and one of the hardest to conceal. A person experiencing feelings of shock will have wide-eyed expressions with eyebrows raised and a dropped jaw. Conversely, anger causes a person’s facial expressions to constrict with lowered eyebrows and tight lips. An angered person may also have flared nostrils and vertical lines between their eyebrows.

Fear looks similar to shock, with raised eyebrows and the upper whites of the eyes on display. People who feel afraid usually have open mouths and wrinkles in their forehead, centered above the eyebrows. Disgust presents with raised cheeks, causing a presence of lines just below the lower eyelid. People will also display feelings of disgust with a wrinkled nose and raised lower lip.

We see happiness in the form of exposing teeth while the corners of our lips are curled upward, and we raise our cheeks. We also express happiness through wrinkles traveling from the outside of our nose to the outside of our lips, and crow’s feet on the outside of our eyes.

And sadness, one we’ve become accustomed to try and hide the most, usually shows itself in the form of our eyebrows drawing upward and close together. The corners of our lips turn down, and our jaws become soft.

Contempt may be the simplest expression, with the corner of one side of the mouth drawing upward, revealing judgment or emitting a sense of superiority.

The Value of Understanding Body Language and Micro Expressions in our Personal Lives

The reason body language is so paramount in the subject of communication is that it drives connection. People naturally feel when a conversation seems inauthentic, but they may not know why. Oftentimes, the authenticity lies in the agreement between words and body language. Studying body language aids people in understanding authenticity and challenging others when they feel their words and body aren’t acting in harmony.

Studies demonstrate that 70% of our communications are nonverbal, and those nonverbal cues are far more accurate than spoken words. If we understand body language, we not only get to recognize the underlying emotions of others, but we better communicate ours. We can spot the nuances of deceit, have healthier, more transparent relationships, and have more success in our professions. The best way to practice reading micro expressions comes in the form of watching and studying intense interviews with politicians, or watching someone play a game, such as poker. Listen to what they say at the time they give their non-verbal cues and determine if their words are consistent with those expressions.

Body Language in the Workplace

Our jobs usually require a fair amount of communication as an essential component to our daily tasks, especially if they involve teamwork. If you come across a colleague in a meeting who has conflicting behavior with the words they say, it’s a great opportunity to open the dialogue about a problem that fellow employee is facing. It may be an issue of confidence, disagreement with a process, or a misunderstanding altogether.

Great managers can decipher body language and choose to swiftly act on their observations. They instill confidence in their employees, and make them feel heard, even when they initially try to hide.

Work presentations improve drastically when the presenter is able to read the body language of his audience of fellow employees and quickly adjust to their needs. If employees demonstrate expressions consistent with boredom or disinterest, the presenter may choose to engage the audience in a different manner to enliven the topic at hand. If the audience shows signs of disagreement, it may be an opportunity to open up a discussion about the topic shortly after the presentation to get clearer on their thoughts.

Most importantly, it’s essential to focus on the awareness of our own body language in the workplace. If we aren’t careful with our nonverbal cues, especially with respect to cultural differences, we may misrepresent our intentions. We may have a different view of what it means to be too close for comfort, or we may have a natural, relaxed stance that someone may interpret as a sign we aren’t interested in what they have to say. It’s vital that we become effective communicators with our own bodies, and respond in ways that are respectful of our peers.

Body language is an essential component of communication, and a very effective one, if we learn to interpret it correctly. We can achieve deeper connections through reading the emotions of others and opening dialogues when we notice conflicting words and movements. It allows us to have a better grasp of our communication skills, while keeping our authenticity in check. It’s a highly effective tool that sharpens our intuition, and drives more transparent relationships.

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