Microexpressions: Catching One-Second Bursts of Emotion - Body Language Secrets to Win More Negotiations - Greg Williams, Pat Iyer

Body Language Secrets to Win More Negotiations - Greg Williams, Pat Iyer (2016)

Chapter 2. Microexpressions: Catching One-Second Bursts of Emotion

Carla thought the interview was going well as she sat opposite Kyle. “I’d really like a job in this company,” she thought. “It is perfect—it would allow me to work at home, use my skills, and do something creative. I know Kyle has been having trouble finding someone for this position. I wonder what the salary is.”

Kyle concluded the interview by saying, “Carla, I think you would do well in this position. I’d like to be sure we are not wasting your time. If I offer you this position, do you have a salary in mind?” Carla said, “Yes, I’d like $60,000 a year.” Kyle’s eyes widened in shock. Carla caught his look and said, “Of course, that is negotiable.” Kyle thought, “I never dreamed I could get her at such a low price! I would have offered $100,000.” He pretended to think about this, and replied, “The best we can do is $55,000.” Carla responded, “Perfect. I will take it.”

Microexpressions Defined

Carla misinterpreted Kyle’s nonverbal body language, a mistake that cost her $45,000 a year. A form of body language, micro-expressions are unfiltered displays of emotion that occur in less than 1 second. They reveal the other negotiator’s mind-set, which you can use to strengthen your position if you correctly decode them. Microexpressions give you a momentary glimpse into someone’s mind. Since your opponent’s brain does not have the opportunity to interrupt the display before it’s made, the microexpression discloses the person’s real thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Body language can give us away based on the nonverbal signals we send in the form of microexpressions. Now there’s a great importance to microexpressions for just that reason. You are not thinking about how you should respond.

Microexpressions last for no more than a second, and some people say three-quarters of a second, the time that it takes to blink your eye.

In the story above, Carla misinterpreted the body language signal she sensed from Kyle. One of the things she should have been much more aware of was what the signal she sensed really meant. She accurately determined it was surprise Kyle communicated. It meant that he was pleasantly surprised at what she said since she had underestimated what he was prepared to pay her. He displayed surprise simply because he was caught off guard. That’s what surprise will do to you a lot of times. Without thinking, you will communicate a truthful microexpression.

Had Carla taken the time to ask probing questions as a good negotiator should always do about what she sensed, she would have had better insight into what that expression meant. She then could have reshaped her perspective based on the number she gave.

As you read this chapter, you will discover how microexpressions come about, the seven universal microexpressions that are generic to everybody in the world, and why they are so important to understand.

Seven Universal Microexpressions

The seven microexpressions that are generic to everyone are fear, anger, disgust, surprise, contempt, sadness, and happiness. The microexpressions are universal in that cultures all over the world share in these expressions.


I’ve done demonstrations to elicit a startle or fear reaction. I will bring someone up on stage during my presentation. I will ask him if he knows he is in a safe environment. He’ll say, “Yes.” I’ll respond, “Okay, so you know nobody is out to harm you,” which serves as confirmation for the fact that he is in a safe environment. He will agree. I will reiterate: “You know you’re in a safe environment and you know nobody is out to harm you.” Then I’ll scream. Inevitably he will jump, duck, or display fear. Even though he knows he is in a safe environment and no one is out to harm him, the scream made him experience fear.

My experiment shows he was displaying not only the micro-expressions associated with fear but also an innate reaction. Fear is one of the protective mechanisms.

I know one particular individual who considered himself to be an extreme daredevil. He loved to hike very close to the edge of a cliff. He wanted the rush, the thrills. “My body will never allow me to get too close to the edge,” he told me. That is the body’s way of protecting itself. It’s the same thing with micro-expressions, which are ways to display your inner emotions as you protect yourself.

Fear is usually denoted when you raise your eyebrows, open your eyes widely, and slightly stretch or open your lips. Your bottom lip protrudes downward.

When we are fearful of something the reason the eyes widen is because we want to take in as much of the environment as we possibly can. In so doing we are able to make decisions based on everything we’re able to glean so we can determine what we should do next.


An angry person has her eyebrows down and together. You will see her glaring, narrowing her lips, and flaring her nostrils. You get the message that she is literally glaring at you; she is not happy with what you have done, said, or some other reason.

Keep in mind that her eyebrows would be raised if she sensed fear and lowered when angry. Therein lies the slight way you can differentiate between the two microexpressions.


Disgust is conveyed by lifting the upper lip, almost like if your opponent smelled something foul and he is wrinkling his nose from it. Now, therein lies an easy way to detect disgust. His microexpression displays he does not like what he is hearing or sensing.

Julie Robbins sat next to a physician, Peter Auckland. Peter was a very friendly guy and he had an open questioning, appreciative look on his face when Julie said she was a nurse. She then explained she previously had a business working with medical malpractice attorneys. As Julie said that, she watched his face. She saw him wrinkle his nose; she watched the friendly expression in his eyes dissolve. Peter’s smile disappeared. He looked extremely stern. Julie explained that she sold her business and no longer worked with attorneys. Peter’s smile came back; his nose smoothed out and the light came back in his eyes.

Julie wondered about the cluster of expressions she saw and realized Peter’s microexpression displayed his attitude toward somebody who helped attorneys.


Surprise is conveyed with raised eyebrows, wide eyes, and open mouth. Recall just reading that you can convey fear with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. Fear and surprise have that in common. The open mouth does not necessarily have to be a part of surprise, but you will usually see the raised eyebrows and the wide eyes.

How do you differentiate between the microexpressions of fear and surprise? You watch for more signals when you are not sure what your opponent is displaying. Look for clusters of expressions to validate what you are seeing.


Contempt is communicated by a sneer: The opponent raises one corner of her lip on one side of her face. Remember these expressions last for less than a second, so you have to be very observant to note exactly what is occurring. Then confirm what has just happened by asking probing questions.


With sadness the upper eyelids appear to be drooping. The eyes are unfocused. The lips are slightly turned down and you will hear a change in tone. Your nonverbal microexpression and your tone combine to project sadness.

Here is another tip for training yourself to recognize micro-expressions. Act the way you would normally act if you are angry. Act the way you would normally act if you were disgusted with something. Act the way you would act if you were surprised by something, and the same thing is true with sadness. If you’re sad, take note of your facial expressions in order to become more astute at detecting microexpressions.


Last, let’s look at happiness. A happy person has a wide-eyed expression—smiled, elevated cheeks, and wide eyes. You’re displaying the gaiety you are feeling, perhaps at the end of a successful negotiation.

Interpreting Microexpressions during Negotiations

Those are some of the traits associated with being able to detect the seven universal microexpressions. There are other gestures that might be microexpressions based on the length of time the gesture is displayed.

For example, if I say to you, “This offer is going to really make you feel good,” you might touch your stomach. Your hand stays there for less than a second. That might be a micro-expression that you displayed, meaning, “I am so pleased to hear that. Boy, this is going to make me feel good.” You’d also be kinesthetically conveying your sentiments, which would give the opposing negotiator insight as to how something might be affecting you emotionally.

Microexpressions give you insight during a negotiation. Your strategy depends on accurately reading them so you don’t make the mistake that Carla made by leaving so much more than she could have had on the negotiation table.

Look at how microexpressions affected a purchase. David Cowen stared at Nancy Winters as he made an offer to purchase her car. Her eyes widened, her cheeks rose, and she smiled. David thought, “I think she is pleasantly surprised with the offer that I just made. I wonder if I named a higher number than she expected. David said, “You know what, I just sensed something. Can you please tell me what it was that I just saw a moment ago?”

Nancy replied, “I don’t know. What did you see?”

David responded, “I saw a little sense of happiness, a broad smile on your face. I was just curious. What were you feeling at that moment?”

“Oh, nothing; I was just thinking to myself that this negotiation is going well,” Nancy said.

“Okay. Why did you think that in that moment?” David queried.

David is probing to not only understand the microexpression that he sensed, but also why he sensed it and how important it was. This type of probing helps you validate the meaning of what you observed.

Microexpressions as Body Language

Body language consists of both verbal and nonverbal communication. There are ways that we can say something like “I love you,” and the same words can have different connotations based on our intonation. That becomes a verbal form of body language. The body language that’s associated with our words colors our communication. Microexpressions add extra meaning and insight into your opponent’s thought processes.

Your body always attempts to be truthful. When it emits a microexpression, what it’s really doing is letting you know something happened. Either I was fearful or angry about something that happened or I was disgusted. I was surprised or felt contempt. I feel sad or happy. From a microexpression perspective, those are a person’s reality as of the moment that person emits those signals.

A very savvy negotiator can feign a microexpression. Now that may sound contrary to what I said a moment ago about microexpressions being real. Yes, they are real 99.9% of the time, but I can feign surprise if I control my microexpressions based on the offer that you made. A lot of people try to feign anger but may not effectively use the cluster of expressions associated with anger: the eyebrows down together, eyes glaring, narrowing of the lips, and the nostrils flaring.

What Causes Microexpressions?

People display microexpressions because it’s a part of our DNA. Centuries ago when we were hunters if we saw something that caused us to experience fear we instantly just raised our eyebrows and opened our eyes wider. We wanted to see more of what might possibly harm us. Our reactions evolved to help us adapt.

Our nervous system responds to threats with a fight or flight reaction, a complex series of chemicals called neurotransmitters that help us respond.

Microexpressions help to protect us. There are times when we are about to eat something and discover it has spoiled. We would display the microexpression of disgust by scrunching up our nose and lifting the upper lip. Our face reveals that something is not exactly the way it should be; that’s a self-protective mechanism. We displayed that microexpression just naturally because something doesn’t smell right to us.

Rebecca Marginelli was negotiating with Robert Warner and Dale Acuff. They were sitting in a noisy restaurant. Rebecca sat next to Robert, and Dale sat across the table from Rebecca. Robert was a very large man who had an extremely loud voice. He was enthusiastically describing the value of his company’s services and trying to convince Rebecca to buy them. Robert was waving his arms around and shouting.

Rebecca recoiled from Robert: She leaned as far away as possible to the point that if she had leaned any further she would have fallen off her chair. As she leaned she also put her hand up, covering the ear closest to Robert. Watching Rebecca’s body language, Dale had a microexpression of intense amusement. He then became noticeably warmer to Rebecca as the conversation went on.

From a negotiation perspective, Rebecca realized that Dale’s allegiance to Robert had undergone a subtle shift. He was not “feeling” Robert, meaning he was not in the same mind-set as Robert. When he saw Rebecca’s body language of pulling away and putting a hand up to cover her ear, he knew Rebecca and he were aligned in their feelings toward Robert’s loudness. This communication took place even though Dale and Rebecca had not said a word to one another. He was able to convey this in his microexpression.

Robert should have also been much more aware of the body language that Dale and Rebecca were displaying. Had he been aware of the body language and microexpressions, he might have realized that he needed to tone his voice down.

Bigger people need to be very aware of the extra projection their size has in any environment when they are negotiating. There are times when big people will be perceived to be more aggressive simply because of their size. People start making assumptions based on what they’ve experienced in the past even though Robert might not have done anything aggressive. In this case, Robert’s loudness might have confirmed that opinion.

Dale might have thought to himself, “Wow, at least I’m not the only one that thinks this guy may be a jerk. He’s definitely talking too loud.” Rebecca wanted to make Dale into an ally. She decided to play on her suspicion that Robert’s behavior was alienating Dale. During the negotiation, she looked at Dale out of the corner of her eye from time to time and just nodded her head to convey, “Oh, there he goes again, but you and I understand what’s going on.” This shows how, through microexpressions, you can communicate among yourselves as to how in sync you might be with the progress of a negotiation.

Impact of Microexpressions on Negotiation

You make an offer during a negotiation and notice your opponent raises his eyebrows, leans away from you, and protrudes his lower lip. “He does not like my offer,” you think. You decide not to question your opponent, but instead you continue with your plan. As you talk, you watch his face. He raises one side of his lip; you recognize he is contemptuous and fearful about what you are saying. “How should I revise my strategy?” you wonder. “What should I do to sweeten the deal? Should I back off on one of the points I am trying to win?”

Microexpressions have a profound impact on the negotiation process. The better any negotiator is at accurately detecting microexpressions, the greater the success in negotiating with offers and counter offers.

Why Carla lost $45,000

I started the chapter describing Carla’s and Kyle’s negotiation. When Kyle’s eyes widened in shock, Carla misinterpreted that signal and immediately backed off from her salary demand by saying the money she was asking for was negotiable. Carla could have improved her perspective by understanding the microexpressions that Kyle was displaying. It’s just good negotiation sense to probe when you’re not sure of what you’re sensing in any negotiation. False steps will color the rest of the negotiation.

Carla should have probed to identify what she sensed. She may not have known it was surprise she was observing, but she was astute enough to detect something. A more favorable negotiation would have resulted if she thought, “If I’m not sure of what I’m sensing, I need to find out what it is before making an offer.” By literally moving forward without comprehending the meaning of Kyle’s microexpression, she cheated herself out of $45,000 a year. Had she taken the time to learn about microexpressions ahead of time, she would have been in a much better position to negotiate with Kyle.

Even though Carla did not know about microexpressions, she could have acted on her feeling of unease and asked herself, “What did I just experience?” Remember, as a good negotiator you never ever want to negotiate unless you’re prepared. When you’re in a negotiation and your opponent uses an unexpected tactical strategy, back off. Carla violated that particular protocol.

Now let’s take a step aside. I don’t care how good a negotiator you are, there are times depending upon circumstances that you will negotiate knowing that you should not. I had an associate who was affected by two unpleasant experiences that affected his ability to negotiate. Not even fully thinking about his mental state, he entered into a third negotiation and realized afterwards he just caved in. He did so simply because of his mind-set. Carla should have been more aware that her desire for the job put her at risk for an unfavorable deal. Her state of mind made her vulnerable. That’s why it’s so important to call a time-out when you’re not sure of where it is that you’re going. Yet it happens to the best of us at times that we don’t call a time-out simply because we’re just not as aware as we should be.

There’s another aspect of this situation that is troubling. Kyle asked Carla, “What is your salary requirement?” Carla gave a number of $60,000 a year. Kyle was prepared to spend at least $100,000 a year to bring her into the company. Clearly, Carla put herself at a disadvantage even before she misinterpreted the microexpression. What could Carla have done when she was asked the question, “What is your salary requirement?” She should have had background information about standard salary ranges in the industry and the importance Kyle placed on hiring her. Kyle already said that he thought that she was a good fit. That is a closing signal, in sales terms, which Carla should have detected to what degree Kyle liked her and needed her skills for the company.

Suppose Carla did research on typical salaries for the position for which she interviewed. Let’s say she gathered data that showed for the particular function that she would be performing, the salary range was between $75,000 and $125,000. She then could have bracketed her expectations for her salary requirements before entering into the negotiation. Second, after knowing the range was between $75,000 and $125,000, she realized that the ceiling for the position was $125,000 and the floor was $75,000. She labeled the midrange as $100,000. Prepared with this knowledge, Carla entered into the negotiation with Kyle. When asked, “What are your salary requirements?” she said, “I did some research and found that the range is between $100,000 and $125,000 for people who accept the jobs in this industry.”

Did Carla bend the truth? It depends on your perspective. She quoted a range for a strategic purpose, knowing she had some flexibility.

The point is that there are times when you never want to give the first number. People have said many times that “he who gives the first number is the loser in the negotiation.” I temper that with “not necessarily so” because there are other mitigating circumstances. The better of the two negotiators may be able to overcome whatever obstacles may come up in a negotiation. She is better prepared to negotiate to the degree that one negotiator also has a plan in place based on whenever mitigating circumstances occur.

Had Carla gathered the data she needed, she would have been much more prepared to negotiate with Kyle from more of an equal perspective.

Improving Your Position with Microexpressions

Effective interpretation of microexpressions involves taking the opportunity to reflect on what you are sensing in your opponent and questioning its accuracy. This reflection takes place in microseconds, in the heat of a discussion, and requires you to think on your feet to reshape your negotiation offer.

Let’s say also that instead of Kyle being prepared to offer Carla $100,000, that he was ready to offer her $125,000. Carla knows this is the ceiling for the position. She would love to accept $125,000 as her salary. In our new scenario, Kyle says, “I’m willing to give you $125,000 for this job.” Carla deliberately drops her eyes and looks sad.

Carla’s preparation led her to realize no matter how good that first offer was she was going to feign a microexpression, and she did that for no more than a second that it took to occur. If by chance Kyle did not pick that up, she could then back away as though she was fearful. Her eyebrows were raised, her bottom lip protruding downward, and her lips slightly have stretched apart. Carla feigned these emotions to convey at a microexpression level to Kyle, “Your offer is just not good enough.”

Another strategy to adopt would be not to say anything to Kyle about his salary offer. Silence often has a great impact; there are many different ways to use microexpressions. Even when feigning microexpressions you have to be aware your opponent may ask you probing questions to determine the meaning of your microexpression. Be prepared to answer those questions.

I have shared what Carla should have done to gather research and plan the negotiation. She should also take into account what microexpressions Kyle might display, when he might display them, and why he might display them. When Carla saw them as she predicted, she could use that knowledge to gauge how she was progressing in the negotiation. She would have valuable feedback about where her positions were succeeding at that point.

The Absence of Microexpressions

Feigning microexpressions involves a deliberate projection of an emotion that’s contrary to the way that you might be feeling. Is it really possible to be completely opaque or have a wooden face and not react at all? We refer to these individuals as “poker faced” or inscrutable.

Being poker faced is not our typical state. Suppose somebody walks up in back of you where you can’t see and suddenly makes a loud sound or touches you. You’re going to react. This is a reflex rooted in our infancy. We are born fearing loud noises and falling. Neonatologists take into their arms a newborn just minutes old. The physician quickly moves his arms down. The baby will react based on an innate fear of falling. The doctors clap their hands near the baby’s ear and watch the baby jump.

Our reflexes and reactions are so innate that when you hide what you are feeling, you can become conspicuous. Your opponent knows it is not natural to sit through a negotiation for an extended period without displaying emotions. A savvy opponent will gain insight from watching you. “What is she hiding?” he may wonder. “What are her true feelings? What is she trying to gain by keeping a poker face?”

I recall the time I sat in a negotiation with a guy who steepled his hands, with his palms together and fingers pointing upward. This body language showed authority, designed to display that he was very confident and knew what he was doing. We sat like that for 45 minutes. The whole time we sat in that negotiation he maintained his steepled hands. Throughout that time I actually mimicked him by steepling my hands. I changed my pose to see if he would follow and he never did.

After the negotiation we developed a closer relationship. “Why did you maintain that body language?” I inquired. He snickered, “I wanted to see what you would do because I figured you knew what I was actually doing.”

We laughed later because both of us understood each other’s actions. I knew also he was feigning that gesture. It’s the same thing with microexpressions or any way that you use your body language to convey your sentiments. If you hold a body language display too long, more than likely it’s not genuine. Your opponent may realize you are trying to send a signal that’s not truly the way you feel.

Carla’s Choices for Strategies

Carla made some obvious errors by not being prepared with homework on the typical salary range and also misinterpreting the microexpression of Kyle. Once she gave her salary number, she could have strengthened her position. What that means is that in Carla’s case, she should have negotiated with Kyle after she gave a salary number to find out what Kyle had in mind. Here’s what could have occurred:

Kyle: “What is your salary requirement?”

Carla: “$60,000. What do you have in mind?”

Kyle: “I’m not really sure I had a real number in mind.” Kyle shrugged his shoulders and glanced away from her as he talked. These gestures may not have connoted a microexpression, but by the fact that he lost eye contact indicated he was not being completely forthright.

Watching his body language, Carla probed: “You didn’t really have a number in mind?”

Notice how Carla asked that question. She allowed her voice to rise at the end of the sentence. That’s something else to take note of too, because raising the voice always puts a statement in the form of a question.

Carla: “Would $300,000 be satisfactory?”

Although Kyle said that he didn’t have a salary in mind, now Carla could have stretched even further to $200,000. By going above whatever the bracket Carla forced Kyle to respond.

Kyle: “I can’t offer above $110,000.”

Carla: “What number can you offer? $100,000?”

Kyle: “No, I’m not sure if I can offer $100,000.”

Carla: “Why? It’s below $110,000.”

Carla observes Kyle’s body language. One side of his lip is raised ever so slightly for a moment. What he’s now doing is displaying contempt for the questioning that Carla is putting him under, and he’s starting to feel a little uneasy.

This is the danger in agreeing on a dollar amount you’re going to engage in with someone and then going back and trying to renegotiate it.

Carla: “I know I said $60,000, but you know I think what would be fair would be more of $100,000 or somewhere in that range.”

Kyle: “Okay, we’ll make it $100,000. You are a good fit for the job. We can offer that salary.” In the back of his mind, Kyle is always going to think, “She said $60,000 and she went to $100,000. I’ll keep that thought in the back of my mind that somewhere down the line I’m going to make myself whole.”

Carla took a risk of not only ruining the relationship that she and Kyle were starting, but at the same time she showed that she might try to take advantage of the situation. Kyle may think to himself that he has to be harder when dealing with her in the future. There are ramifications to how you position yourself in a negotiation while at the same time understanding the trap of acquiescing too fast or giving a number too quickly.

Had Carla been much more astute, she would have taken the time to find out the salary range and not be overly exuberant about the fact that she had a job offer. Instead, she should have said, “I have a job offer. Let’s make sure I get fairly compensated for it.”

Negotiating for Benefits

One of the negotiation principles is that you can accept a lower number for one part of a deal but enhance your total compensation with other features. Carla had a choice of saying she would accept $55,000 as a salary, but she also wanted four weeks of paid vacation, profit sharing, fully paid health insurance, and a company car. In other words, Carla could have layered on additional forms of compensation that meant something to her even though they did not match the income she just unknowingly lost.

For Carla to request these benefits, she needed to understand there was more on the table—more to be obtained. Carla did not even probe to find out if she could get more. One of the things that she sensed was surprise, which made her lower her demand. Kyle understood that her offer was more than likely not her firmest number when he went below that to $55,000. He took even more away from her than she otherwise could have had. She more than likely accepted the $55,000 too quickly.

Consider another strategy Carla could have used. She stated her salary demand was $60,000 and caught a microexpression on Kyle’s face that looked like surprise. Suppose when Carla saw the expression of surprise on Kyle’s face, she probed, “What did I just sense?” Kyle responded, “I don’t know. You were the one that felt it, so you tell me.” Note how Kyle was putting Carla into a corner to push her to probe.

Carla retorted, “I thought I sensed you were surprised.” He said, “I was.” As a negotiation strategy, Carla wanted Kyle to reveal why he was surprised. She has to get him to be honest and not deflect her inquiry. Now she has a little more input to work with. She questioned, “Why were you surprised?” Kyle looks pensive, trying to figure out how to avoid sharing his shock at her low number. After Carla sits in silence waiting for him to answer, Kyle reveals, “I thought your salary requirements would have been a little higher.” This answer permits Carla to consider asking for a higher salary or tacking on the benefits to raise her compensation.

Here’s another thing to contemplate. If the salary range was bracketed as I indicated earlier of $75,000 to $125,000, the benefits would add up to about 25%. Salary plus additional benefits would be 25% more of whatever salary she was getting. Suppose Carla found out through research she did ahead of time the bracket was $75,000 to $125,000 and she settled for $75,000. The benefits would not have added up to reach the $100,000 Kyle had in mind.

Deciphering Microexpressions in a Cultural Context

A savvy negotiator will learn how to recognize microexpressions and the moods they convey. Earlier in the chapter I stressed you should think about the different mind-sets you put yourself in when you are sad, fearful, or angry. Note how you really feel at such times. Draw on that knowledge when you’re watching other individuals. Train yourself to watch how others display emotions through microexpressions. In so noting you will become more astute at recognizing the genuineness of microexpressions.

The better you become at deciphering microexpressions, the better you will become as a negotiator simply because you’ll have so much additional insight based on the way your opponent uses his body and reveals his emotions through microexpressions. Use this knowledge to guide you in modifying or sweetening your position or taking something away.

Acute observation will help you get more insight about when you sense microexpressions. In addition, by reading this book you’ll also gain a lot of value about microexpressions and their meaning and the impact they have on the overall flow of body language during a negotiation.

Astute negotiators do their homework on the cultural background of their opponent. You need to understand the culture of others when you negotiate with them. For example, you may encounter Japanese people who appear overtly polite, with a lot of bowing and displays of deference. The Japanese value proper decorum and not alienating people; they may project an impression of being in agreement even if they do not feel that way.

I think someone once said the word “no” is not in the Japanese vocabulary. I don’t know to what degree that is true. What may happen is in the Japanese society, you will hear “yes.” Although you think while you’re negotiating you have a deal, in reality what they’re saying is “Yes, we agree to disagree” or “Yes, we’ll take this to the next stage.” Even when you think you have a negotiated deal, in the Japanese society that means you have negotiated it to the first phase and now it’s time for the second phase.

You always have to understand your opponents’ culture when you are trying to assess to what degree they may be displaying microexpressions or holding back their natural expressions simply because it’s part of their society to not display anger, as an example.

Now, here’s a way to test this. Be careful about how you do this. If you knew in their culture they did not display anger in public, you could intentionally do something to anger them. Watch to see to what degree they display either contempt, disgust, fear, or anger. You will at least know that there is a button you can push later if you chose to do so. This is a common tactic.

I’ll give you another quick example. At the end of World War II, the Japanese were not ready to come to the negotiation table because they wanted their emperor to have the same powers and status he had prior to the war. That was a point of contention, because the United States took the position Japan had to unconditionally surrender.

In any negotiation you have to take into consideration who’s not at the negotiation table. In this situation, the Russians had also started encroaching upon Japan. The Japanese were concerned about what would occur if the Russians got involved in the negotiation process. Even more so was the United States’s concern as to what would happen if Russia became involved. Thus, the United States backed off from the requirement for an unconditional statement of surrender and allowed the emperor to have some ceremonial powers.

Understand the culture and to what degree microexpressions may play a role. Remember that microexpressions are emotional displays lasting for less than a second. Even though they’re taught in the Japanese culture to not display anger in public, you can catch a glimpse of it if you have done something to really anger them and you’re astute enough to catch it.

My colleague inadvertently infuriated a female Japanese tour guide by being 5 minutes late coming back to the tour bus after being separated from her group of friends. The tour guide told my colleague in clear and distinct words that she was supposed to be back at 10:00 and 10:05 a.m. was not acceptable. A repeat infraction would result in her entire group being removed from the bus and left behind. Punctuality is highly prized in the Japanese culture. My colleague worked out a plan with her group that they would not allow themselves to be separated.

A month later my colleague was on a Caribbean tour that was supposed to leave at 9 a.m. They were on “island time” and waited for an hour in the sunshine for a guest who might be coming on the tour. Note the difference between the cultures related to time.

In South America many years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Venezuela on a project. I was told ahead of time to understand that the culture there is different. If someone says to you, “I’ll have it by Tuesday,” they may mean “I’ll have it by Thursday, Friday, Monday, or maybe Tuesday of the following week.” Thus, don’t get upset if you go to a restaurant and you don’t get the quick service that you would experience in the United States. It’s a slower pace, a different environment, and thus the reason you always have to understand the environment you are in and how culture affects microexpressions, body language, and negotiation tactics.

In Summary

To the degree you can become astute at accurately sensing, reading, and detecting microexpressions, you can enhance your negotiation abilities. It gives you a huge advantage at the negotiation table. Practice observing microexpressions and interpreting their meaning.

Public places are good settings for practice. For example, you can look at people in the airport and sometimes you can just tell what they are experiencing by the expressions on their faces. There have been times when I’ve walked up to someone in an airport, introduced myself, and told them that I was a body language expert. I told them what I sensed and that I was trying to confirm my conclusions. I have found people respond to me by confirming my conclusions and offering explanations. Try this exercise to add to the repertoire of knowledge that you build up. To the degree you get very good at it, you become a better negotiator.