Jeanne: Can You Spot a Fake Smile?

woman holding picture with big smileOddly enough, one of the most useful skills I’ve acquired from becoming a romance writer is an improved ability to read people’s facial expressions and body language.

I’m not suggesting I’ll be taking up a second career as an FBI profiler, but prior to learning to write romance, I had zero skills in that area. Back when I worked in IT, I would often go to meetings. Afterwards my co-workers would dissect the subtle interactions between the power players who ran our world.

“Did you see the look A gave B?” one would ask.

“I did!” another would chortle. “Did you see the expression on C’s face? She totally did not want to be assigned to work with D.”

I saw none of this.

As I’ve struggled to learn how to show emotion rather than telling it, though, I’ve learned a few things. Emotions Revealed by Paul Eckman was a godsend. It describes, with photographs, not only major emotions (fear, surprise, anger, etc.) look but also the subtle micro-expressions that accompany less strongly felt emotions.

How good are you at deciphering what people are feeling simply by looking at them?

Care to put your money where your (smiling) mouth is?

Here’s a little test you can take. If you’d like, feel free to leave your score in the comments.


6 thoughts on “Jeanne: Can You Spot a Fake Smile?

  1. It’s like we’re twins 😀

    That sounds like a description of me in meetings.

    I did better on the survey than I thought (14). I credit Eckman’s book, which I read a while back, as well as the related television shows, Lie to Me. I’ll still never make it as an FBI profiler, but at least I’m improving..

  2. When I worked in advertising during a recession, there were cost-cutting times when we were in imminent danger of being laid off. We wage slaves became experts in interpreting the subtle interactions among the power players above us–not only their facial expressions and body language, but their interactions with one another and with us. After work we’d go to the pub and lay bets on who was on which list. I learned a lot in those years, and very dark humor helped us through some very tough days.

    One thing I particularly remember is talking to my boss, fairly newly arrived in Europe from the US, and fairly new to the organization. I made a few remarks about management’s impending actions that we’d assessed, digested and taken as given. He was appalled. He thought he had some kind of security leak 😉

    • Sad to say I went through a similar dark time at work–a company that went from 9000 employees to 3000 in the 11 years I worked there. Even with my limited body-language skills, it was clear to me at one point that my new boss did not like me. (The feeling was entirely mutual.)

      So I had one of my techies write a piece of code to check the database under the company’s Outlook address book. (The address book got refreshed overnight, so it wasn’t up-to-the-moment current.) The morning that search no longer revealed my name I packed up my desk and was waiting when they came to get me.

  3. Interesting! I got 13 — the low end of typical. Love the quick thinking with the code to tell when you were on the way out. It’s terrible that they did things so abruptly, but I love your cleverness.

    • We’d been through a lot of rounds by then. Although, as I think about it, I think he came up with the idea and just offered to share it. So the credit for clever thinking goes to him but the credit for being realistic enough to see the ax falling definitely goes to me!

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