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!