The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the face is the mirror of emotions.
Once you learn to read the cues in a person’s microexpressions, you will have a good idea of what that person is feeling. What is a microexpression? It is a fleeting, split-second expression that might not even register in your awareness if you are not attuned to it.
Why is all this important to sales? Dan Seidman says a person’s face is basically a road map through the process. Read it, and you will know where to go next.
Dan was recognized as the International Sales Training Leader of the Year in 2013 and has designed sales training in the U.S. and across the planet from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Caracas, Venezuela. He bases his microexpression insight on the research of Paul Ekman, who inspired the TV series Lie to Me.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Dan says the ability to read microexpressions will not only guide your sales process but also help you navigate all your relationships.
FELDMAN: How did you get interested in Paul Ekman and microexpressions?
SEIDMAN: I read about Paul Ekman in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink 12 years ago. And I was fascinated by the ability to look at somebody’s face and be able to know what feelings were underlying the conversation. People do a good job of hiding with the poker face they generally use.
I started researching Ekman and eventually contacted his organization. [Dan is now a board member of the Emotional Intelligence Academy.] His research reveals that you can decode the human face and that facial expressions are universal. People in the U.S. make the same face for joy as the indigenous people in Papua New Guinea do.
Ekman actually did the research. He filmed people all over the world and found that everybody showed the exact same facial expressions for seven key emotions that we want to focus on, seven universal microexpressions. They are disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contentment.
What was really cool is, he found that people who have been blind from birth also make the same facial expressions even though they’ve never seen other people’s faces. He calls that part of the evolutionary process. I’m not a big fan of evolution myself, but that’s the context of what Ekman says where it comes from. This was an opportunity for sales professionals, entrepreneurs and business pros to use this to really understand their buyers at the level they’ve never been able to understand in the past.
You also can imagine that a counselor would find this extremely valuable. And in the legal profession, attorneys and judges really need to know if people are telling the truth. Poker is a huge area where there’s been a lot of training done with Ekman’s work.
here are people in England who are analyzing what they call attack intent — in basketball. To know whether a player with the ball is going to shoot the ball or put his head down and dribble.
And then finally, one area where it’s being used that’s really fun is in movie making. Ekman has contributed to an Academy Award in Visual Effects for Lord of the Rings. Remington Scott was the wizard who built emotions into the faces of digital beings like Gollum, and we’ll continue to see movie creatures become more “realistic.”
FELDMAN: It’s extraordinarily fascinating to get insight into the psyche of your clients. Have you used this effectively in sales training?
SEIDMAN: I’ll summarize how I tell people to deal with it when they become aware of it. You have to talk about the elephant. So if someone is angry, you have to talk about their anger. Now, how you talk about it is the tricky part.
You can’t just go out there and say, “Well, you’re really angry, and tell me about that.”
You have to do softening statements. You must have trust and rapport so that they’ll share things with you that they wouldn’t normally share in a sales setting.
FELDMAN: How does someone train at recognizing microexpressions?
SEIDMAN: It takes a lot of practice. For example, I had a DVD where you can watch faces and guess what emotion is being revealed. I had a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles with my son, who was 12 or 13 at the time. We sat for like an hour and a half and kept going through these things and laughing at how bad we were, but we got better and better.
Well, later on we were in a retail store and the owner of the store was arguing with a customer, and he asked the customer, “what would you like me to do to make you happy?”
And the suggestion that the customer made was really a bad idea, because there was this look of disgust that flashed for just a split-second on the owner’s face. And I turned and looked at Josh — and I said, “Did you see that?” He goes, “Yeah! It was disgust! He was really upset; he was disgusted with the suggestion the guy gave him to resolve the problem.”
So, that was a big wow moment for us — to be able to pick that up in other people.
What I realized from that was, I used to think that listening was the most critical element to selling success. Listening training is a huge neglected area in the sales profession. I spend a lot of time on it in training.
But now I realize that listening isn’t as important as just paying attention is. If we can pick up these visual cues, we can get as much information and better information than we can get simply by being great listeners. So I’m seeing that we need to be better at simply paying attention.
FELDMAN: So, it is more important to become better observers?
SEIDMAN: Absolutely. I’ve discussed this with Cliff Lansley of the Emotional Intelligence Academy. He is Paul Ekman’s partner and runs their global training out of Manchester, England.
He said the steps in the process are simply put this way: awareness, understanding and influence.
I mentioned to him how salespeople often wonder whether a prospect is telling the truth or not. Lansley said according to the science of deception, we understand that lies are linked to emotions and require greater cognitive effort than the truth, and that liars over-control their behaviors.
By greater cognitive effort, I mean it takes work to make up a story and keep the other person from seeing behind it. This extra effort gets exposed when one has the ability to read that flicker of “emotional leakage” in the other person’s face.
He also pointed out there are actually six communication channels that reveal a person’s true feelings. They are content, interaction style, voice, face, body and body psychophysiology. A really adept person can monitor all six channels.
A single clue is not enough to judge what’s really going on. He said there is no Pinocchio’s nose — no single obvious visual cue — that tells you somebody is lying.
Sometimes it’s the words they use. How they interact with each other. It’s their voice or body language. Things like that. You can’t just rely on the facial coding.
You can start learning how to identify these by starting with a frame of reference you’re already familiar with.
For example, some people are absolutely terrified of snakes. There’s a whole bunch of things that happen to their body when they see a snake.
They kind of freeze — they stop for a moment, hoping that the animal will not notice them. Their heart rate increases at the same time everything else is slowing down. Their eyes widen. Their brows raise and squeeze together and their mouth stretches sideways.
Basically, the blood is flowing away from the surface of the skin and toward essential organs and large muscles in the legs, like they’re getting ready to bolt.
There are all these things going on with people when they experience a true fear reaction. Their body is suddenly a different type of beast when they experience a really dramatic emotion at the far end of the spectrum.
FELDMAN: So take me through the process. What do you have to do to start grafting this and to use this in your own life, in your own work?
SEIDMAN: Repetition and seeing the faces so they are instantly recognizable. The interesting thing is, a lot of us are good at this with people we have a long-term relationship with. If you think about somebody you have been close to for many, many years, you pick up those nonverbal clues sooner than when you actually hear the verbal explosion or joy or whatever.
You have digital resources where you can watch videos over and over again. You pick up all the cues in their eyes, around their mouth and start to recognize what emotion is in there.
When I train people in this, I use a really fun exercise. I ask reps in a room to choose a superpower that would help them increase their sales performance.
Some creative things they come up with include precognition — the ability to predict the future. In essence, a salesperson is saying, “I’ll be known for my 100 percent closing ratio because I can predict the future.”
Or superhuman endurance, working harder but not smarter. Or how about time travel, and I can go back and redo the sales call and fix what I did wrong. Immortality — I’ll study the best salespeople and become the best person who ever sold.
Their superpower might be mind control — “You must buy from me; nothing is more important than saying yes right now.” Or flying — “I’m sick of being stuck in traffic all the time; going to my sales calls.”
So I set up learning by explaining that this training reveals a superpower that’s under the radar. You want to know whether people are being truthful or deceptive. So when their words don’t match their facial expressions, you know there is something going on. You know you’re in trouble.
FELDMAN: How else can people train in recognizing microexpressions?
SEIDMAN: Another way to learn this is to practice the emotion part on your face. I was teaching this last week and I used the opening scene from The Hangover: Part Three.
If you didn’t see this movie, it opens with Zach Galifianakis, who bought a giraffe, and he’s driving down the freeway when the giraffe’s head gets cut off by an overhead bridge.
He doesn’t know what happened to the giraffe, but there’s a huge accident behind him. So he starts to hear all these crashes and he pulls to a stop. He sees cars smashing into each other, an 18-wheeler slides sideways and all these giant steel pieces of metal unsnap and fall off and go rolling across the highway. It’s this huge disaster, and in that instant, you see like this smirk on his face. He’s kind of disgusted at how stupid these people are. It’s almost like contempt.
So, what are you going to do as a sales pro when you see an expression like that? Maybe you made a suggestion and they show surprise about your suggestion — you’d better respond to that emotion. Perhaps you’d say, “is that idea something you didn’t expect?” You’re acknowledging their feelings, and it’s almost mystical to the other person.
Here’s a quick side note on the emotion contempt. If you see contempt when you’re in a relationship with someone you think is close to you, you’re going to be in trouble in that relationship because that’s a very extreme emotion for someone to feel about somebody they care about.
Certain emotions are a warning. When you see the cue, you better realize you might be in for a battle.
It’s just practice. See it everywhere, notice it, and we get better at knowing what the truth is. It’s as simple as that.
FELDMAN: I remember reading in your book The Secret Language of Influence about language patterns when something is not congruent and you know there’s something really wrong. Would you tell us more about that?
SEIDMAN: People are motivated by pain or gain, but what best motivates buyers to buy? This is the oldest argument in selling, and I have researched it.
You have gain-based — or benefit-based — selling, which is what Zig Ziglar and Tommy Hopkins were talking about in the 1970s and '80s. Then along comes Summer Sales Institute, in the late '80s, telling everybody you could only motivate people to buy if you could find their pain and identify their pain points.
We know from cognitive psych that either pain or gain is a motivator for buyers. You have to know which one you’re talking to and then change your language.
I was interviewing a potential sales manager for a company I’m working with right now. And he was very much a gain-based person. All of his ideas were “Here’s a benefit, here are the good things that’ll happen, we want to build a really successful sales team” — that sort of stuff. But when I asked him about his sales practices, he flip-flopped and said, “Well, I think pain is a really big motivator for people, and you find people’s pain points.” He was giving these platitudes that he knew he should say because they’re popular right now.
But the rest of his body didn’t really buy into it. It was just the words that he had to lay out here.
He was kind of kissing up to me in the interview — he was showing that he was smart or that he understood things better than he really believed.
And it made me very uncomfortable all of a sudden in the conversation — like he wasn’t being completely honest with me. So, sometimes, you get that feeling whether somebody is credible because of their use of language.
As a sales pro, you match a buyer’s decision-making process — whether it’s pain-based or gain-based. You do it well when you communicate with them in their dialect.
If you speak about problems with a pain-based person, then you’re speaking their dialect. If you talk about goals and visions and making money and all the good things that can happen with a gain-based person, then you’re speaking their dialect. So you want to match the language skills they’re exhibiting to show how they make decisions.
The other thing to understand in language is whether people are internally or externally motivated. This doesn’t mean somebody is an introvert or extrovert; it just means they either make a decision based on their past background and experience or they make a decision based on getting that feedback from other people — affirmations, testimonials, that sort of thing.
That’s another thing to understand how people are motivated to make decisions: whether they fly solo with their decision or they get advice and ideas from others.
FELDMAN: Can you give us an example of all this in action?
SEIDMAN: Say you’re on a sales call, talking to a couple about annuities. You start talking about the market and what’s happened in the market in the last year or two and whether they’ve made the proper adjustments.
And you say, “Hey, the last couple of years have been kind of a wild ride in the market.” And the woman has this flicker where her lips go down and there’s a moment of sadness. You realize that something had to have happened that made her sad.
Right away that would be a cue for you to ask her, “So what happened to you guys personally in this market change? Are you riding out losing money and getting things back?”
The woman might look at you and say, “We were going to go on this incredible cruise to China — a spectacular cruise for 30 days. And all of a sudden we didn’t have the cash to do it. And this dream I’ve had for so long just kind of disappeared. We think we might go back one day soon.” So you have all this information from that cue that you got — she tipped you off with her microexpression
. When people share a story, they create emotional context for the conversation. You want your potential clients to go into a story. Good stories or bad stories, whatever. You create emotional context.
So you might say something like, “Wow, so what would it take for us to get you to the point to get on that trip?” Now you’re giving her hope. So we’ve actually taken the conversation off a little bit of a rabbit trail because she gave us a hint that there was something going on — that there was a bad memory attached to this conversation.
Now we’re giving her hope about the something bad that happened and maybe we can turn it around. That’s the kind of thing that I teach salespeople to do — increase their awareness.
Don’t just be a good listener, but pay close attention. Then handle it professionally but in a kind way, because you want people to talk to you like you’re a friend — like they’re going to share their innermost dreams and desires with you at some point in time.
We’re talking about money, and that’s what money is for. It’s for good things to happen. It’s to keep bad things from happening. You create context when you understand a microexpression.