Day 2 of ESaC

Today. Today we’ve started venturing into the detailed learning of what it means to understand emotions in others. As a reminder, the 7 universally recognisable emotions are: sadness, happy, anger, fear, contempt, surprise and disgust. We were taken through the micro expressions people display when they experience this emotion. We were also taken through the theory of how an emotion triggers an automatic appraisal process which leads to an action. There’s a lot to go through, so let’s get started.

First of all we we’re taken through the emotion timeline. That is, from the moment we experience an emotion, how do we move to action. This is at the core of self-awareness on the topic and leads itself to helping us to understand how to manage these emotions when we feel them. I can’t reproduce the timeline or go into detail about its facets due to copyright restrictions.

Essentially when something triggers an emotion in us, we are physiologically hardwired to ready the body for action. We cannot change this as it’s been evolutionarily passed down to us. This all happens within milliseconds. Our experiences will add information to this readiness in order that the body prepares itself in the right way. Most of the time we can trust this automatic reaction. Part of this automatic reaction is the micro expression seen, and part of it is physiological readiness. Up until this point, we’re not conscious of what’s happening. From the point of readiness is when we can determine what action to take. We can either trust that an instinctive action is appropriate for the situation, or we choose to act differently. Once we’ve acted we start to return to our base line – or our normal way of behaving.

What I like about this model is that it helps to give a process to what happens when we feel an emotion to when it is initially acted on. We were taken through the model to help us see how for any of the seven, we can pick a distinct trigger for an emotion and track the path to action. It’s hard to capture just how significant this level of personal insight is. The purpose in doing this exercise is so that we raise our self awareness to enable us to understand how to manage our emotions better. What is crucial about doing this following the Ekman methodolgy is that it’s steeped in scientific research, not just observations and intuition about human relationships – hard data about the human condition.

We moved on from there to learn how to display the seven emotions. I really enjoyed this as it was a good opportunity to practice the facial expressions that go with each. I posted the pictures up attempting to show: base line, sadness, anger, contempt, disgust, happy, surprise and fear. What I found in practicing these was that when I display some of the emotions, they are more subtle (especially contempt!) than they should be and can be.

There was good opportunity to take the Micro Expression Training Tool (METT), which you can also do here. It’s an interactive tool which provides you with information on recognising micro expressions and feedback about selections you make. This was really useful as it tests the learning gained from practicing the micro expressions.

Towards the end of the day we had probably the most pertinent discussion for the L&D community – what about body language? Without doubt, there is no scientific research which shows that non verbal communication through body language means any set of behaviours. That is because, unlike the micro expressions which are universally understood, body language is completely contextual. A backward ‘V’ sign in the UK has one meaning, and something very different in European countries. Importance of eye contact has a myth of indicating truthfulness, but this is not borne in anything. Eye movements that are meant to indicate remembering facts, or making up lies are completely untrue. I could go on. Importantly, very importantly, all L&Ders need to be very careful that we do not describe body language in terms of fact, or science, as there’s no scientific research that currently supports any of it. What we should be careful to do is help people to understand they need to be aware of the persons mannerisms they are with, and notice significant changes to the norm, and from that infer that something changes, but we cannot attach meaning to them.

Today has been full of learning. I’m glad that Paul Ekman International has decided to make this training public as it will only help to strengthen the way many of us use what knowledge and experience we have in delivering interventions, in working with others, in coaching, and in self awareness.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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