Self-Reflection: Microexpressions & NLP

The face and its facial expressions, also known as microexpressions, are more so a window to the soul than looking into the eyes could ever be. But, only if you know how to read them – the microexpressions that is.

We can tell a lot about a person according to their facial expressions. Micro-expressions are defined as “brief, involuntary facial expression that appear on a person’s face according to the emotions being experienced.” It is difficult, highly doubtful that a person can fake a micro-expression. Read more to understand why.

There are seven universal microexpressions:

  1. Disgust
  2. Anger
  3. Fear
  4. Sadness
  5. Happiness
  6. Surprise
  7. Contempt

Microexpressions can occur as quickly as 1/16 to 1/24 of a second; that’s pretty fast for the untrained eye to notice, much less start to track and attribute to possible or probable causes or reasons. But, for the trained eye, it is the difference between knowing if someone is being untruth about being happy with their new work assignment or not. Micro-expressions are the best indicator of a person’s emotions we can get without other testing or their telling us how they are feeling.

The Father of the Face

Dr. Paul Ekman, whose research and work was the premise for the television show “Lie to Me” did a phenomenal job in decoding the human face. The television show enlightened many of us to this universal behavioral science. His research shows us that all facial expressions are universal and can be universally understood; whether you reside in the United States or in a remote village in Tanzania, your face will model anger and surprise in the same ways. I found the most interesting part of Dr. Ekman’s findings to be about those who cannot see – those who are blind from birth and have never seen another person make these micro-expressions; these individuals will still make the same seven expressions due to feeling these emotions. Fascinating!

Are these the only facial expression humans have? Of course not, but these seven are a wide swath that cover the ones we humans most often use and are also easiest to interpret. A study of microexpressions will yield more than one hundred microexpressions that are generally relatable to these core seven. It is recommended that you try making the seven universal micro-expressions (and more) in a mirror or by taking selfies of each expression. Note: As you make the expression, if held long enough, you will start to feel the emotions. The same holds true for viewing the selfies of yourself making the microexpression, you will feel the emotions expressed in those photos. We even feel them when we see them reflected to us by others.

Incorporating Microexpression Interpretation into Your Work 

I have been a student of Dr. Ekman for about 6 or 7 years now, studying with him online via the courses on his website. I am also a student of NLP – neurolinguistic programming. Early on in my learning, I considered both to be intellectual hobbies, but have deeply incorporated them into my work.

They were a part of my work just by virtue of my knowledge of them coming to bear as I work with clients. However, I have formalized their use in my work with my coaching and organizational clients. If I am making a prolonged microexpression, the expression came naturally and organically for a split second. I then made a purposeful decision to hold that expression. I do so to signal to the person I am speaking to, as to what I am feeling about how they are conveying their message or  the content of their conveyance. I have trained myself to do so, as it solicits a more honest dialogue and feedback from those I am working with, so that we both achieve our goals in communicating.

Even more importantly, I am incorporating both NLP and the use and understanding of microexpressions at depth into my self-work and personal growth journey. There is much to learn from my and others’ subconscious motivations when observed, if only in my and their micro-expressions.

It is important to note that moods differ from emotions in that the feelings involved last over a longer period. For example, a feeling of sadness can last for a few minutes or even for an hour, and that is called an emotion. But if a person were to remain sad all day or has reoccurring intermittent sadness several times throughout the day, or is sad for several days, that is called a mood. People may describe the person experiencing the sadness as melancholy or they may say that the person is in a sullen mood.

What Can We Learn About Ourselves and Others? 

Dr. Ekman explains it is possible, but not probable for a person in this mood to not at all show a considerably sad face, even if not for a prolonged period of time. It is more likely that the person will demonstrate the feeling with a sad facial expression whenever that emotion is strongest and the expression may linger and come onto their face again after a considerable period of time has passed, if the mood has not resolved and the emotion replaced with another feeling. Emotions are defined as” a complex pattern of changes, including physiological arousal, feelings, cognitive processes, and behavioral reactions, made in response to a situation perceived to be personally significant.”

What do your microexpressions have to say about your emotions? Are you having the most appropriate emotional responses to stimuli? Can you become aware of them (the emotional responses and the micro-expressions) as you have and make them? How can you use this information to tap further into your subconscious mind? How can this help grow your emotional intelligence and help you to achieve your career goals?

These questions for self reflection or for our coaching work together, give me a call at 646-504-6691 now!