How Your Face Can Betray Your Words

A biotech marketing director once asked me, “Mark, how do I get my team onboard with a program I don’t believe in?”

My immediate, slightly sarcastic mental response: There’s no magical approach.

My actual response: “You can’t.”

Your external actions and internal thoughts must be aligned. I call this “congruency.”

A Harley-Davidson dealer wanted my help increasing sales of new motorcycles at his store. So I did what consultants do: I evaluated the market, employee skills, dealership processes and the like. Improvements could be made, but something else was wrong. When I casually asked the motorcycle sales manager what kind of motorcycle he rode, he replied, “Oh, I don’t ride motorcycles. They’re overpriced and dangerous.”

Mystery solved.

If that sales manager didn’t support what he was selling, how in the world could he convince his customers? If you are promoting a product, an idea or an initiative, ethically you need to believe in it. And even if we were to put the ethical issue aside for a moment, if you don’t believe in what you’re talking about, your facial expressions and body language will give you away.

In 1966, two social scientists by the last names of Haggard and Isaacs filmed husbands and wives engaging in difficult conversations. Who manages the money? How should we raise the kids? All sorts of emotionally charged issues were discussed during these therapy sessions. During the exchanges, Haggard and Isaacs took notes on even the briefest facial expressions made by the couples and discovered what they called “micromomentary facial expressions” — commonly referred to today as microexpressions.

Microexpressions last between 1/5 and 1/25 of a second and typically occur during high-stakes conversations when someone has something to lose or gain, and at least one person is attempting to suppress his or her true feelings about something. Subsequently, the other person almost always senses this disconnect.

Is your mouth saying something different than your face?

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