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Lie To Me? I Saw You Twitch…

Whatever You Do, Don’t Blink

I don’t watch a lot of tv, mainly because I have a short attention span, and something has to be pretty compelling to catch my interest.  If you haven’t caught an episode of Fox’s new series, “Lie to Me” you probably want to check it out. The show follows Dr. Cal Lightman, a ‘deception expert’ who studies micro expressions and body language to figure out if someone is lying.  The interesting part of this (for me, at least), is that the science underpinning the show is the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology and has been studying facial expressions and body movement since 1954.

The show points out that facial expressions are universal, and frequently places photos of the show’s characters, frozen in emotion, next to cultural references making the same gesture or expression to illustrate the point. (The last show pointed out a ‘self comforting gesture’ of holding one’s own hand, with photos of Princess Diana and Michelle Obama.)  Darwin was the first to publish on the topic, in 1872, and Ekman’s work expands on that. The show also points out how expressions can ‘leak out’ without the subject realizing they’ve done it. I’ve spoken with a few different people who thought the observations in the show were so dead on (liars actually maintain eye contact, to watch and see if you believe their lies) that they were uncomfortable watching and turned it off.

Reading Your Clients?

From a real estate perspective, I am always using body language and facial expression to help read a client’s thoughts…it’s easy to see as you show a couple a home if they like it, without ever needing them to say anything. Granted, some folks are tougher to read than others.  I know lots of Realtors who have been trained to recognize and interact with different personality types, so perhaps a brief training in reading microexpressions could be useful too? Dr. Ekman’s company offers a Microexpression Training Tool that claims to teach you to read microexpressions in an hour’s time.  (You can demo the tool on the website, trying to guess on five different expressions. I scored an 80 percent, not bad!)

Although I don’t think that the focus on sniffing out lies is necessarily the most important use of the skill for agents, being able to read microexpressions could probably help you interact and communicate with your clients more effectively. Test out the demo and let me know how you did!

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Written By

Heather is a Realtor with Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, Virginia. She's also the 2008 VARBuzz Blog Brawl Champion, mom to four fantastic kids, and the wife of a golf professional. If she had free time, she'd probably read a good book or play golf. You can find her on twitter, @hthrflynn, or writing on her blog,



  1. Ken Brand

    February 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I caught that show blazing through static one night. Very interesting stuff. That lead guy was awesome in Pulp Fiction…but I digress.

    I’m gonna have to follow up on this stuff, fascinating. Daniel Pink touches on this stuff in book “BLINK” too, calls it “think slicing” I think.

    Good work….thanks.

  2. Joel McDonald

    February 10, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I think all of us have certain benchmarks built into our “body language reading skills” & they can be really helpful if we actually pay attention to them…

    Last time I was at an airport, I was delayed for several hours, and I played a little game… I happened to be sitting next to booth with a couple of folks trying to get people to sign up for a credit card & get a free flight. It was fun to watch people’s body language, and predict whether or not they would sign up. Most people’s minds were already made up that they didn’t care what they were selling — they weren’t interested, and it was fun to determine which of those people would sign up for a credit card.

  3. Vicki Moore

    February 10, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Pretty funny Heather – I just added this show to my DVR for that exact reason.

  4. Lisa Sanderson

    February 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    The cultural references are the best part of the show…had me roaring when they showed Nixon and some other favs! Having teenagers, I get a lot of practice reading non-verbal communication…they hate when I figure them out so easily LOL

  5. Austin Smith -

    February 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Hmmm…I skipped the training and scored a 40% on the demo. Not as good as your post is, Heather, I can see how this would be an integral part of an agent’s tool chest.

  6. BawldGuy

    February 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Good stuff, Heather. This is nothing if not NLP by another name. It’s been an arrow in my quiver for a couple decades. Once you’ve figured out the applicable template, you can read folks almost like a book.

    You can take it many steps further by understanding their base of operation — visual, etc. Now I have to figure out how to record yet another show. 🙂 Thanks for the heads up.

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