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So What’s in a Face?

Cat with staring eyes - magnus rosendahl

A man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Conduct of Life

Professional poker players frequently wear shaded glasses to hide their eyes from their opponents for fear of offering vital clues as to their state of mind and intentions. Whether the eyes are the ‘windows to the soul’ is a philosophical question for another time, but they’re certainly key to both establishing a connection and providing insight into the person within.

We register faces in about 1/17th of a second – quite possibly a throwback to a limbic system fight or flight response. Research from Harvard shows that we form impressions of others within 2 to 7 seconds of first meeting. Whether we realize it or not we are all ‘people readers’ with gut feeling frequently determining likes and dislikes.

In business we inevitably meet some people with whom we feel little connection, but with whom we must interact. Having insight into their personalities, behaviour and communication styles enables us to better build bridges, or resolve conflicts should they arise.

Our facial features and the changes that occur throughout life offer a wealth of information if we can learn to decipher them. The ancient Chinese art of Mien Shiang is proving invaluable to corporates today in key areas requiring face to face interaction. TV and Hollywood have also made great use of facial archetypes e.g.  in Star Trek the Next Generation we see the Ferengi with their large noses and ears being focused on money (check out any richest people list); the Klingons with their large and big-boned faces with angular features are direct and aggressive; Bambi’s big eyes represent openness and friendliness – notice how few politicians have big eyes!

We know that CEOs at corporate level have predominantly wider mouths, being by nature more verbally expressive. We also know that it is rare to find very successful entrepreneurs with small noses. If we do we note that they are likely to be working full-time hands-on in their business with very little free time to develop a broader vision. Their tenacity is essential to their success and should not be underestimated. These are, by definition, generalizations with each individual set of features allowing us to be more specific in our profiling.

Learning to read faces is a process requiring us to pay attention, a major challenge in today’s world. It is about making accurate observations, not judgements. When reading faces/people gut feeling is important but not enough. Having a demonstrable system is essential to establish credibility.

This is the first in a series of occasional articles on reading faces and body language. I’ll also be producing a number of short informational videos on the topic.

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Joseph McGuire is the owner of Clearsight Communications who provide personal evaluation services and training in the areas of senior level recruitment/promotion, negotiations, sales and HR. Individual consultation sessions are available both in person and via Skype. He is also in demand for group presentations, private functions and conferences. For further information email: info@clearsightcommunications.com

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Pay Attention to Detect Deception

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Deception leaves a bitter taste, and is destructive of relationships, reputations and credibility. Unfortunately in recent years we have seen all too frequent attempts at deception in the public arena, often under the heading of ‘spin’. Corporations, governments and media, sometimes acting in tandem have striven to gain advantage by mis-representing or denying factual evidence. It is short term thinking at best, and thankfully there is a growing awareness of the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility. Let’s hope it forms deep roots.

Over many years cinema has presented us with numerous examples of characters out to deceive. Some personal favourites in recent times are ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Thank You for Smoking’. The reasons for deceit varied considerably, but the performances were all convincing – as one would expect from accomplished actors. In real life – unless one is a sociopath or psychopath – we are likely to leave a trail of both verbal and non-verbal clues pointing to any attempts to deceive. The key to spotting deception is to become observant enough to note the discrepancies of language and behaviour which act as ‘red flags’.

There is a great deal of mis-information in the public arena about Body Language, especially around this topic, and there are very few gestures which definitively indicate deception. The following sequence or cluster of movements tested in MIT and North Eastern University has been shown to conclusively reveal lying, when done in this order in this order:

  • Touching ones hand
  • Touching ones face
  • Folding ones arms
  • Leaning back

Of course there any many more indicators to look out for. If our suspicions are aroused when interviewing or negotiating we should be alert for sudden or incongruous gestures, movements, or changes in breathing patterns. If we spot any such changes it is important to note where in the conversation they have occurred and what issue was being discussed. Rather than automatically assume that this is a clear sign of deceit we should bring the conversation back to non-contentious issues for a few minutes to allow for a return to a relaxed posture. Only then should we return to the topic which triggered the initial gestures etc. If they are repeated we can then begin to probe directly to discover the underlying cause. It may or may not be deception, but it will certainly be a significant stress factor which can prevent a successful outcome. Double checking like this is important. It both prevents us from jumping to conclusions and clarifies that we have hit a ‘hot’ topic. A one-off shift in posture may be down to physical discomfort or itchy clothing.

Politicians

Politicians are a fascinating study when we look at Body Language, and they frequently reveal very deceptive behaviour. Perhaps the best known example was Bill Clinton denying that he had had “a sexual relationship with that woman…..Miss Lewinsky!” As he spoke he provided two visual clues and one verbal clue that he was lying. He is famously left-handed, but he gestured with his right hand. At the same time he looked to his left, distancing himself from his gesture.

His reference to “that woman….Miss Lewinsky” was an example of further distancing himself from what had clearly been a very intimate relationship, and is a typical verbal tic used when lying. (For a fuller list of verbal indications of lying look up ‘Statement Validity Assessment’, drawn up by German psychologists. This is an invaluable tool.)

To practice your deception-spotting skills I recommend watching politicians when they are making apparently emotional speeches. If you know which is their dominant hand check if that is the one they are using to gesture with e.g. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are left-handed. Watch the speech first with the sound on, then rewind and watch with the sound off. In particular pay attention to the eyes and the mouth. You may well spot fleeting glimpses, known as micro-expressions, of smiles and smirks, in which case these are red flags – but hopefully your politicians are honest!

Joseph McGuire is the owner of Clearsight Communications who provide personal evaluation services and training in the areas of senior level recruitment/promotion, negotiations, sales and HR. Individual consultation sessions are available both in person and via Skype. He is also in demand for group presentations, private functions and conferences. For further information email: info@clearsightcommunications.com