If you tuned into the first presidential debate of 2016, you were one of 84 million people who intently watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and waited for a reaction or flicker of emotion that might hint at their true character. While politicians might appear to have perfected the poker face, body-language expert Kasia Wezowski believes it is possible to push past this façade by honing one simple but valuable skill: the ability to read microexpressions.
"The secret is to pay attention to the spontaneous and involuntary microexpressions that rapidly flit across everyone's faces at times of intense emotion," she explains in an article for The Harvard Business Review. It can last for as little as one 25th of a second, but Wezowski tells MyDomaine that learning to read these queues will make you better at everything from salary negotiation to connecting with your S.O. (or picking the right presidential candidate).
Follow these three steps to become a master negotiator, manager, and leader—and get what you want every time.
"If you can't read what your counterpart is feeling and instead focus only on what he or she is saying, you're highly unlikely to achieve everything you could have," says Wezowski, a topic which she covers at length in The Micro Expressions Book. In other words, if you spend the majority of a job interview listening to what the hiring manager is saying rather than focusing on how they say it, you're making a vital error.
Instead, she says the key is focusing on their face for at least four seconds. "It's important to focus on a person's face for at least four seconds, not because you're looking for the microexpression itself—which is only visible for a fraction of a second—but to see what follows. It's about the context of the conversation," she tells MyDomaine.
Try this: When you name your expected salary during a negotiation, watch your interviewer's face carefully for four seconds. How does their expression change? "Focus on the mouth, nose, and eyes," explains Wezowski. "Most muscles that are reliable signs that show emotions are situated in those three areas." Use this insight to judge whether the salary you've listed is realistic.
If you're dealing with a master negotiator, skilled salesperson, or politician, the best way to break their facade is by telling a story. "Our brain cannot focus on at the same time on controlling body language and listening carefully. So when you tell them a story about them or broach a topic that's important to them—perhaps a client or budget results—they will show their emotions because they are focusing on the content," she explains. "This is the best way to spot real microexpressions and spot hidden agendas."
This body-language hack isn't just helpful in the boardroom; it could also benefit your relationship. "Many people say they improved their relationships with their partners because they can see more on their faces," she says. "It's crucial be able to recognize what your partner is feeling and react to that," she says—and it's a skill you can hone with this simple technique.
Try this: Have a hunch that your S.O. is bothered by your tardiness or another habit? Tell them a story about a friend who is frustrated with their partner for a similar reason, and watch their face closely. If they show a flicker of anger or empathize with the couple, it could reveal their true feelings.
Skilled leaders don't just know how to read microexpressions, they also know how to manage their own. Surprisingly, Wezowski says the worst thing you can do during a job interview is try to hide your facial expressions. "If you try to mask too much you might not connect with your interviewer," she explains. Instead, the key is to train yourself to think positively, which will be naturally conveyed when you react and interact in the meeting.
Try this: Spend 30 minutes before a job interview reframing the way you think about the opportunity. "Think about all of the positive parts of the job. Imagine you doing the role and working there and enjoying your work," she recommends. "If you believe that you will succeed, this will be expressed on your face and you will have a much better chance at getting the job than if you tried to hide your fear."