This week I am picking where I left off before NLP Trainer’s Training three weeks ago.
Most people can recognise the facial and non-verbal signals associated with extreme
emotions such as fear, anger and happiness particularly if these emotions are
The challenge is in recognising more subtle expressions of emotion or deliberate concealment. Many psychological theories accept the concept of six major emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. The suggestion here is that other emotions are a combination of these six.
Ekman (1999) expanded this list to include contempt, embarrassment, amusement, guilt, shame, contentment, excitement, relief, pride in achievement, sensory pleasure and satisfaction.
There are debates in the academic papers about just how many emotions are “basic” and
innate and how many are either combinations, culturally trained or both. There does seem to be a lot of agreement now that emotions are the same cross culturally, although display rules may vary.
Can we learn how to recognise emotions better? The answer to this has to be yes. Those with high emotional intelligence in this area may be able to recognise emotions even
concealed emotions with a high degree of accuracy. Others may need to learn.
The place to start is to recognise the basic universal signals for each emotion consciously. For each of the “basic” emotions for instance there are specific “tells” such as raised or lowered eyebrows. I will go into detail on some of these signals next week for now I want to focus on a general overview.
Our ability to take in visual information is vastly improved when we use peripheral vision. This allows us to take in more details and we are less likely to focus on one small area of the face missing other cues. In NLP we spend a considerable amount of time in Practitioner training teaching students how to use peripheral vision as part of sensory acuity.
Having developed skill with this type of vision I recommend practicing until the application becomes an unconscious competence. For example walking in a natural setting
using peripheral vision often results in me seeing more wildlife than I would using focused vision alone.
The use of peripheral vision also increases the likelihood of spotting a micro-expression.
A micro-expression is where the concealed emotion leaks for less than a 25th of
Earlier this year I went on a course to learn more about Paul Ekman’s methods. As part of this we explored micro-expressions and how to spot them. I was surprised how much my
sensory acuity in this area improved as a result.
For example, recently I was coaching a young woman going through a particularly tough time in her life. Several times during the session she flashed a fear micro-expression. Due to my heightened perception it appeared as if time slowed down during these expressions allowing me the opportunity to really see what was going on.
In this instance I already knew she was frightened and doing her best to cope with a difficult time in her life however if I had not been aware of her situation spotting the
micro-expression would have helped me to understand her better.
Next week I will go into more detail about how to spot a micro-expression and identify specific emotions. I will also include some information about using such techniques ethically and appropriately.
For those of you based in the Bedfordshire area (UK) I will be presenting a short workshop on recognising emotions based evaluating truthfulness for the CIPD in September. If you would like more information click on the link below.
Also in September we will be running our next NLP Practitioner. I recommend this training to anyone wanting to improve their ability to read other people’s emotions and also as a way of managing your own. The link below gives more information of this course.
Next week I will discuss in a bit more detail how to recognise the facial universal indicators
of basic emotions.