We can all tell when someone is angry, sad, happy, etc. because it is part of human nature to be able to detect each other’s emotions. However, people can also decide to hide their feelings, or sometimes there are too many emotions or thoughts going on in our minds to let them all out at once.
A recent guest on the Negotiations Ninja podcast, David Matsumoto, has been studying non-verbal behavior for 40 years, is a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, and is the director of Humintell, a company providing tools to help people master the complex world of emotions. David has extensively studied facial micro-expressions showing how our faces can often give away what is going on in our minds beyond what we put out on the surface.
In negotiations, it’s important to understand what your opponent is thinking. Are the emotions they are showing genuine? Are they hiding something?
David says that by paying attention to possible micro-expressions, you will be able to tell if there is something you are missing.
Our faces contain approximately 23 muscles, each of which can move independently of each other at different intensities and symmetries. This can lead to thousands of different combinations of facial expressions that can be occurring on our faces when we don’t know it. Whatever is going on in your mind, whether you are having a conversation and thinking about how you can get out of it, or talking to someone while secretly stressed about work, these underlying issues will show themselves on your face. Most people, however, are not paying attention.
As a negotiator, being able to identify micro-expressions, determining whether the person you are engaging with is showing you what is really on their minds, gives you a tool that you can use or not use.
“I mean, what we’re talking about is getting into the hands of the negotiator a little bit of additional information about the person you are talking to, right? So that we can plug that into our process, our style, whatever we’re talking about, but we have that additional, what I like to call, data superiority about the individuals that we’re talking with,” says David.
David says the micro-expression isn’t necessarily a truer representation of what the other person is thinking than what they are telling you, but more of an indication that they have other thoughts in their mind. Those thoughts could be the alternative to what they are telling you, but they could also be that they are upset about something at home, they have an additional stress point in their mind, completely unrelated to what you are discussing with them. It’s up to you, once the micro-expression has been identified, to decide whether you want to address it and whether or not it could affect the business you are conducting with that person.