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Find Out What Your Clients Are Really Thinking

November 16, 2021

In 2017, after the violent bombing that killed 22 concertgoers in Manchester, England, a local man named Chris Parker was heralded for his heroism after news coverage shared that he ran back into the arena to help those who had been injured. More than £50,000 was eventually raised to help Parker, who was homeless at the time, get back on his feet.

But the story of the unexpected hero took a turn when it was discovered that after entering the arena, Parker had stolen items from the deceased audience members and taken photos of them to sell to the tabloid media. He went on to be charged and sentenced for his crimes the following year.

2021 REALTORS Conference & Expo logo

Parker’s rise and fall from grace could have been avoided entirely, said a speaker at the 2021 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, if those trained to detect human emotions had viewed any of his initial interviews with local media.

“There is an incongruence between Parker’s words and facial expressions,” said Dan Seidman, a sales coach with expertise on identifying universal micro-expressions. While being interviewed alongside a friend, for example, Parker briefly closed his eyes, glared and shook his head, and rolled in and clamped his lips. To the uninitiated, this expression could have been mistaken as someone experiencing intense grief. To those with experience in identifying universal expressions of emotion, Seidman said, it was clear that Parker was angry after his friend had intimated that Parker was not sharing the full story.

The Seven Universal Micro-Expressions

Anger is one of the seven universal micro-expressions that can be recognized by anyone from any country, said Seidman. This statement is based on extensive research from renowned counseling psychologist Paul Ekman, who pioneered the link between facial expressions and emotions in the 1970s.

The seven universal expressions, according to Ekman, are:

  • Surprise
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Contempt
  • Sadness
  • Happiness

Seidman uses Ekman’s research to guide his own sales coaching. In his session, Seidman reviewed the common physical attributes and triggers of each emotion and shared how real estate agents could benefit from identifying the micro-expressions in their buyers and sellers.

Surprise

Surprise

Surprise is a transitory emotion, said Seidman. This means that people tend to experience it briefly, usually for no more than two seconds, before transitioning to another expression and emotion.

What it looks like:

  • Eyebrows raised
  • Eyelids pulled up
  • Mouth hangs open
  • Whites of the eye become more pronounced

Trigger: Sudden, unexpected movement

Fear

Fear

Fear can sometimes be confused as surprise, Seidman said, but by paying close attention to the eyebrow movement and mouth position, it is easier to tell the two expressions apart.

What it looks like:

  • Wrinkled forehead, eyebrows pulled up and together.
  • Mouth stretched sideways

Trigger: Threat of harm.

Anger

Anger

Seidman told the audience that Ekman doesn’t view emotions as being inherently positive or negative. Instead, Ekman preferred to describe emotions as constructive or destructive. Anger can cause damage, Seidman said, but it can also lead to necessary change. One example of anger being used constructively, said Seidman, was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

What it looks like:

  • Eyebrows pushed down
  • Upper eyelids pulled up
  • Margins of lips rolled in or tight

Trigger: Blocking of goals.

Disgust

Disgust

Disgust was the first expression Seidman identified in the real world, he has said, after he and his son witnessed a store owner who became offended by a disgruntled customer’s suggestion. It was the moment, Seidman said, that he realized he could begin using Ekman’s framework in a sales training capacity.

What it looks like:

  • Eyebrows pushed down
  • Nose wrinkled
  • Upper lip pulled up
  • Lips loose

Trigger: Something distasteful.

Contempt

Contempt

Contempt is the easiest of the seven universal expressions to identify, said Seidman, because it is the only unilateral expression (or expression that affects only one side of the face).

What it looks like:

  • Eyes neutral
  • One lip corner pulled up and back

Trigger: Feeling of superiority.

SAdness

Sadness

If you identify someone who is expressing sadness, Seidman said, it’s an opportunity to lead with empathy and to forge a connection. As a salesperson, it can also be revealing to see how people respond in moments when they are experiencing sadness.

What it looks like:

  • Inner corner of eyebrows raised
  • Eyelids loose
  • Lip corners pulled down

Trigger: Loss of valued person or object.

Happiness

Happiness

Happiness should be a pretty easy expression to identify, and it may indicate that it’s time to begin closing a deal or talking more constructively about it, said Seidman.

What it looks like:

  • Outer eyes tighten (crow’s feet)
  • Cheeks are raised
  • Corners of lip pulled up toward temples

Trigger: pleasure.

Practical Applications

After pioneering this work, Paul Ekman went on to consult for Disney/Pixar and was the inspiration for the lead character in “Lie to Me,” a crime drama that ran on Fox from 2009 to 2011. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to put Ekman’s work into practice, said Seidman. By studying the micro-expressions and learning to identify them in real-time, any salesperson can become a better in-the-moment communicator and facilitator for their business.

Gina Rautenberg

Gina Rautenberg is a marketing consultant and writer who specializes in the real estate industry. Outside of her work with the National Association of REALTORS®, Gina has collaborated with T3 Sixty, Inman, realtor.com®, Edina Realty, HomeSpotter, RateMyAgent, and many brokers and associations. To get in touch, please email gina@findyourlingo.com.

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