Micro-expressions are More Useful to Reading People from Different Cultures than Body Language

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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Micro-expressions are More Useful to Reading People from Different Cultures than Body Language

🔥NEW Body language is used to express or convey a message or information. People have been trying to understand others' thoughts by observing others' body language. However, body language varies significantly from culture to culture. For example, shaking head can be interpreted as 'disagreeing' to one group of people but as 'agreeing' to another. Besides, people may find it is hard to read persons good at managing their body movements and able to mask their feelings.

A micro-expression, on the contrary, remains remarkably consistent across all known cultures. Spontaneous and involuntary micro-expressions flit rapidly across everyone's faces at times of intense emotion and therefore provide an instant, honest window into how the person is currently feeling. People might try to hide their facial expressions in varying ways informed by culture, but to a practiced reader, the true emotions are always visible.

Recognising and interpreting microexpressions takes practice, but body language researcher and instructor Wezowski (2018) suggests the following things you can do immediately to improve your skills.
  • STUDY THE MOST COMMON MICROEXPRESSIONS, such as surprise, anger, fear, disgust, happiness and contempt, and get aware of the hallmarks of each.
  • EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE BODY LANGUAGE, including masking techniques, if you are about to visit or interact with a specific culture. You can probably find videos online of 10 executives from that culture and watch how they communicate.
  • FOCUS ON THE FACE when you are at the moment. However, do not make your counterpart uncomfortable by staring at them unwaveringly.
  • BELIEVE IN YOUR GUT FEELING. Humans are naturally good at subconsciously detect even the subtlest microexpressions, so ask yourself what happened when you notice a tiny facial movement.
  • TRY TO MIMIC THE MOVEMENT. By doing that, you may have more time to think, and the mirror neurons in your brain will also tell you the correct emotion associated with that movement.
  • Start to EXCLUDE EMOTIONS when you still cannot figure out how the other is feeling. You should be able to quickly notice what the facial cue does not mean, after learning the most common expressions above.
  • DISCERN THE SENTIMENT OF THE MAJORITY when you are presenting to a crowd; you do not need to get frustrated by one negative look.
Microexpressions are a better way of reading people from different cultures as they reveal someone's true feelings in seconds. Noticing them and adjusting your behaviour accordingly gives you the chances of smoother cross-cultural interactions.

Source: Wezowski, K., 2018. How to Get Better at Reading People from Different Cultures. [online] HBR. [Accessed 3 February 2021].

  Jaap de Jonge
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