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Using "Micro Expressions" to Your Negotiation Advantage


Greg Williams

May/June 2011, eSide Supply Management Vol. 4, No. 3

The ability to decipher involuntary, unfiltered emotions gives you a distinct advantage.

When it comes to negotiating, the better you are at reading body language, the more of an advantage you have. To increase that upper hand, supply chain professionals should also be adept at deciphering micro expressions — unfiltered emotional actions that occur before the mind has a chance to filter, conceal or alter them.

You might not think you perceive micro expressions in a negotiation, but you do. This subset of body language lasts from 1/25 of a second to 1 second. Thus, micro expressions are involuntary, natural occurrences that reflect the current emotional state of mind of the person displaying the actions. Everyone exhibits micro expressions in all aspects of their lives.

Poker Face: Business man playing poker at his desk.

During negotiations, some supply chain professionals might sense micro expressed emotions without really understanding what they have perceived. In some cases, they attribute their perception to a sixth sense, or having a feeling about it. In reality, what they are really sensing is the mental registration of a displayed emotion, without the intellectual recognition of what is occurring.

7 Universal Emotions

Seven universal micro expressions are common to all human beings around the world: anger, disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt. Such emotions are not bound by ethnicity, social placement in society, political association or religious background. Therefore, once you are proficient at detecting the presence of micro expressions, you can accurately apply your perception of an emotion across a broad spectrum of people with whom you negotiate.

The seven micro expressed emotions can be further described by the facial nuances that form them.

Anger. Most people can spot anger when they sense it. It — and happiness, which will be discussed in a moment — are the easiest micro expressions to detect. In some cases, people aren't aware of what they're sensing right away; they might simply say they "get a gut feeling."

To confirm the perception of anger, observe an intense appearance in the eyes (that might be akin to someone staring/looking through you), eyebrows down and together, and a narrowing of the lips. In this emotional state of mind, the other negotiator's eyes — while focused on you — are also being used as an introspective reflection of the thoughts being discussed. It's another indicator that the person on the other side of the table is fixated on the thoughts that are angering and confronting him or her.

Vital Negotiation Tips

  • Never pass up the opportunity to enhance your negotiation skills. Incorporate the ability to sense and use micro expressions in your negotiations.

  • Micro expressions give a "snapshot in time" into the emotional state of someone's mind. By combining micro expressions with other aspects of decoding body language, every supply chain professional can significantly increase the outcomes of every negotiation.

  • To become more proficient at observing micro expressions, practice detecting the mood of a friend. Choose one of the seven emotions to focus on over the course of a week. Do this for seven weeks. Then, observe your accuracy when determining your friend's mood. You will be amazed at how intuitive you will become in the detection process.

Disgust. The lifting of the upper lip and the scrunching of the nose displays disgust. This gesture gives additional insight when dealing with a negotiator who wishes to appear amenable to the discussion at hand, while being inwardly repulsed by it.

Fear. To detect fear, observe raised eyebrows, wide eyes and lips slightly stretched and parted, with the bottom lip protruding downward. If these signs are missing, the other negotiator might be projecting a bogus emotion to invoke an emotional alteration in you. If you're not sure of what you're sensing, observe the other negotiator's arms and/or legs to see if they're being kept close to the body. Such actions will serve as additional confirmation of the genuineness in the displayed emotion.

Sadness. A drop in the eyelids denotes sadness, when accompanied with a glazed and out-of-focus look in the eyes, and a downturn in the corner of the lips. You can also attain confirmation by noting a quivering in the voice, along with a more somber mood.

Happiness. Happiness is a wonderful state of mind to be in when negotiating; that is to say, it's wonderful when everyone involved in the negotiation is happy. To detect when genuine happiness is being conveyed, note the wrinkles that appear at the corner of the eyes, heightened cheeks and lips slightly upturned. A mouth, slightly agape, might also accompany this micro expression.

Surprise. A drop in the bottom lip, accompanied with a widening of the mouth, raised eyebrows, and wide eyes, all connote surprise. Sometimes, it is easy to confuse being surprised with being shocked. To be accurate with your assessment, examine what is being discussed and the manner in which it is done, following the emotional display.

Contempt. You can glimpse contempt in the form of one side of the lips drawn back toward the ear and raised on one side of the face. Such an action will be fleeting, but if you are able to sense it, you can glimpse the disdain the other negotiator has with what's being discussed.

A Constant Challenge — and Opportunity

In any situation, if you can accurately interpret the body language of another individual, you gain insight into his or her thoughts and his or her thought process.

Because micro expressions give added insight into the emotional state of mind, they can add a significant advantage to your negotiation efforts. If you equip yourself with the knowledge of how to use micro expressions and implement the process into your negotiations appropriately, you will greatly enhance your negotiation efforts.

Greg Williams

Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator is the author of the bestseller Negotiate: Afraid? 'Know' More. He is based in New Jersey. To reach this author, please send an e-mail to (Footnotes have been omitted.)

For more articles and resources on negotiation strategies, visit the ISM articles database.

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