Facial Microexpressions


Training Topic Worksheet

Let’s be real, we all know what microexpressions are…you remember that look your mom gave you from across the room that told you she was either happy, fearful, surprised or maybe even angry with something you were about to do.  She likely didn’t have to say a single word and we KNEW exactly what she meant and probably took the proper actions to make sure that “Happy” was her next facial expression.

So, what are Microexpressions anyway – they are hard to control, instantly tell on you, and work like magic to create authentic, near instant trust and rapport.  Microexpressions are universal facial cues that convey our internal world and help us to communicate these emotions – whether we want to or not.  Super smart scientists suggest that microexpression information is communicated in as little as 1/25th of a second, requires almost no brain power to interpret, and can nearly instantaneously create a fight, flight, or freeze response.   If someone is charging at you with an angry facial expression vs. someone charging at you with a happy facial expression, how quickly would you take different actions?

So, how can we use these to our advantage in sales and leadership?  Great question!

Four Benefits of Using Microexpressions in Sales and Leadership

  1. Improve Authentic Bonding and Rapport through mirror matching.  If you are reflecting the emotions your prospect is feeling it conveys a sense of empathy.  And, your prospects don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  (Aka Mirror Matching & Modeling)
  2. Co-create an emotional environment that helps the sales move forward.  Everyone buys emotionally and the final checkbox for our prospects is almost always “How do I feel?”  If we are conveying our internal emotions of happiness and joy, they are likely to mirror our feelings and are being led to being more happy and joyful.  (Aka Pacing and Leading)
  3. Better Understand what your prospect, client, or employee is really “Meaning.”  This is one of the key bits of information poker players utilize to determine if the other players are bluffing or not and why many professional poker players will wear hats, sunglasses, makeup, and even get botox injections to hide their “Tells.”
  4. Change Your State.  If you want to feel better, happier, more joyful, simply take on the facial expression of that person.  When you smile, you are happier, even if you’re not and your emotions will follow your own cue and lead and ultimately increase in happiness to match your facial expression.

Your prospects don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

The Seven Universal Microexpressions

The face is almost always the best indicator of a person’s emotions, and since we know most prospects lie to us most of the time it might make sense to get better at reading their true emotions and underlying intentions.

Dr. Paul Ekman, whose research is the premise of the show Lie to Me, has helped decode our facial expression communication and has also proven facial microexpressions are universal.  People who have never been taught or shown how to express emotions will still express the same way.  For example, people in your hometown express happiness and sadness with the same facial microexpressions as someone who has been blind since birth and someone else in a distant land.

Ekman has designated seven easy to use and interpret facial expressions.  By learning them, paying attention to their emotional power, and understanding how to use them to communicate is wildly powerful.   If you want to practice reading people’s faces, it is important to know these expressions. You may want to play a little game of “Microexpression Charades” where each player makes a facial expression and everyone else has to guess what they are feeling.  You could also make the following faces in the mirror so you can see what they look like on yourself.

The 7 Microexpressions

Pictures and a few videos of these facial microexpressions can be found on the Science of People website.

Surprise Microexpression

  • The brows are raised and curved
  • Skin below the brow is stretched
  • Horizontal wrinkles across the forehead
  • Eyelids are opened, white of the eye showing above and below
  • Jaw drops open and teeth are parted but there is not tension or stretching of the mouth

Fear Microexpression

  • Brows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line
  • Wrinkles in the forehead are in the center between the brows, not across
  • Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up
  • Upper eye has white showing, but not the lower white
  • Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back

Disgust Microexpression

  • Upper lid is raised
  • Lower lip is raised
  • Nose is wrinkled
  • Cheeks are raised
  • Lines show below the lower lid
  • This is the expression you make when you smell something bad.

Anger Microexpression

  • The brows are lowered and drawn together
  • Vertical lines appear between the brows
  • Lower lid is tensed
  • Eyes hard stare or bulging
  • Lips can be pressed firmly together with corners down or square shape as if shouting
  • Nostrils may be dilated
  • The lower jaw juts out
  • (All three facial areas must be engaged to not have any ambiguity)

Happiness Microexpression

  • Corners of the lips are drawn back and up
  • Mouth may or may not be parted, teeth exposed
  • A wrinkle runs from outer nose to outer lip
  • Cheeks are raised
  • Lower lid may show wrinkles or be tense
  • Crows feet near the outside of the eyes
  • *The expressions on the left are fake happiness where the side eye muscles are not engaged, the ones on the right are real happiness.  See the difference?

Sadness Microexpression

  • Inner corners of the eyebrows are drawn in and then up
  • The skin below eyebrow triangulated, with the inner corner up
  • Corner of the lips are drawn down
  • Jaw comes up
  • Lower lip pouts out
  • *This is the hardest microexpression to fake!

Contempt / Hate Microexpression

  • One side of the mouth raises

Training Topic Worksheet

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