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5 Tips for Using Microexpressions to Sharpen Your Negotiation Skills

Annie Sarnblad is truly a revealing resource. Founder of Point House Advisors and preeminent global expert in reading facial expressions, Sarnblad can numerically code the 10,000 different muscle combinations in a human facial expression no matter where they are from or what language they speak (and Sarnblad speaks eight; nine if you count microexpressions).

“Microexpressions are universal, they have nothing to do with culture and everything to do with our species; they show the emotions that precede the thought process,” explains Sarnblad. “By better understanding people’s emotions in the exact moment they are feeling them, we gain insight into their wants, needs and priorities,”

As one of many visionaries presenting at the 2018 YPO EDGE in Singapore, Sarnblad took part in a YPO Facebook Live. She revealed some key insights for reading microexpressions, which, as she defines them, are expressions lasting up to one-25th of a second.

1. What are telltale signs someone is not giving you the full truth? Look for expressions that don’t match the words, when someone changes keywords and answers a different question and for body movements that are out of sync with the dialogue instead of being natural.

2. As humans, we’re trained to look people in the eye, but this is not useful when you’re trying to read someone. Instead, look at their mouth or between their eyes, flicking your eyes back and forth. If you see a movement that doesn’t match their words, bring up the topic again to see if the expression repeats itself.

“People try to put their best foot forward which means they often mask their real emotions,” says Sarnblad. “Being able to read someone gives you the advantage of knowing their true feelings which you can then leverage to base your responses on.”

3. The best way to start learning to read microexpressions is by studying someone’s face you know well and developing a sense of pattern recognition. From there, move on to less recognizable faces with people of different ages, ethnicities and genders to recognize those same patterns on unfamiliar faces. Following that, watching videos is a great way to train yourself to recognize the onset and offset of various facial expressions.

4. Be mindful not to get carried away when you first start learning to read people; there’s a tendency in the beginning to think you’re seeing more going on than is actually there.

5. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” When you feel nervous in a negotiation, smile — even if it’s fake. The movement of those muscles actually sends signals to your brain that help you relax and as a result, mask your true (nervous) feelings.

“For anyone interested in knowing how another person is feeling, understanding how to read microexpressions is extraordinarily useful,” says Sarnblad.


Watch Sarnblad’s full Facebook Live

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Deborah Stoll’s work as a journalist has been featured in The Economist’s online magazine, More Intelligent Life, in LA Weekly and its food blog, Squid Ink, as well as on the music site Buzzbands LA. Her short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles quarterly Slake and the literary website Fresh Yarn. As a musician, Stoll’s songs have been featured on American Idol, Glee and CSI: Miami, and her collective work as a content creator and animator has more than 1 million views on YouTube.