facial micro expressions

Facial Micro Expressions

How to respond to emotional information you weren't meant to see

facial micro expressions

Proper etiquette when spotting facial micro expressions

If you’ve ever witnessed a person’s micro expressions and weren’t sure how best to respond, there are some important considerations that can help guide your next move. Since facial micro expressions only occur when an attempt to conceal emotions—either deliberately or unconsciously—is made, you must always remember that this emotional information was not shared with you purposefully, or perhaps even knowingly. For this reason, you must carefully consider two things: if you should use that private emotional information and, if so, how.

Pursuing emotional information with caution

If you have decided that the emotional information is worth pursuing, the next issue to consider is whom the micro expression was directed toward. While it can be tempting, you cannot presume to know the cause behind the expression without further investigation. For example, spotting a facial micro expression of anger doesn’t mean that person is angry with you, it just means that they experienced an angry emotional episode about something. To avoid jumping to conclusions, it helps to consider that the person might be angry with his or herself, or that they are recalling an earlier event that made them angry. 

Responsible responses

Remember, it is often the best course to say nothing about what you have seen. Instead, you can remain alert to the possibilities, or you might ask, “Is there anything more you want to say about how you are feeling?” A further step could be, “I had the impression you were just feeling something more than what you said.” This way, you give the person an opportunity to share more with you voluntarily.

A matter of personal privacy

Ultimately, how you respond depends on the nature of the relationship, its past history and intended future, and your knowledge of that person. You may not always be entitled to comment, even vaguely, on the emotion you have detected. Although I believe that relationships generally work better when people understand and acknowledge how the other feels, that isn’t always so; what you don’t want is to make the other person feel that they have no privacy around you. 

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

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