How to Detect Micro Expressions

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Human emotions rule our lives. They inform most, perhaps even all, of our interactions in and out of the workplace. Although most professionals try to keep their emotional expressions subdued at work, one cannot completely keep herself from expressing what she feels. Even when she consciously tries to avoid showing emotion, emotions show themselves in her micro expressions.


Not everybody shows every micro expression associated with each emotion. The shape of an individual's face and her skin's elasticity can determine whether she displays certain micro expressions and the intensity with which she displays them.

The Seven Micro Expressions

There are seven recognized micro expressions. They are:

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

Micro expressions are the tiny, brief changes to an individual’s face that let the world know what he is feeling. These expressions typically last between 1/15 to 1/25 of a second, displaying their feeler’s emotion on his face before he can consciously conceal it. Micro expressions are not learned; they are an involuntary response. People around the world, including those who were born blind, display micro expressions.

Recognizing Disgust in Faces

When the office smells bad or the toilet backs up and overflows, employees typically express disgust. Disgust can also be a reaction to a colleague’s actions or comments. Micro expressions for disgust include:

  • Wrinkled nose
  • Raised cheeks
  • Lines showing beneath the lower eyelid
  • Raised lower lip
  • Raised upper eyelid

How Anger Manifests

In many workplaces, there is a lot to be angry about. Benefit package cuts, layoffs, policies that create new burdens on employees and denied requests can all make an employee angry, which causes his face to show one or more of the following:

  • Tensed lower eyelids
  • Flared nostrils
  • Extended lower jaw
  • Staring or bulging eyes
  • Firmly pressed lips
  • Squared lips, as if ready to shout
  • Lowered, drawn together eyebrows

Reading Sadness in Colleagues’ Faces

Getting news that she will be let go, finding out that her closest friend at work is resigning, having her proposal shot down and seeing her hard work amount to nothing are all reasons for an employee to feel sad. When she feels sad, her face may display:

  • A pouting lower lip
  • Her lower jaw jutting forward
  • Triangulated skin below the eyebrows
  • The eyebrows’ inner corners drawn in and up
  • Her lips drawn downward at the corners

Recognize Happiness Instantly

There are lots of reasons to be happy at work, like an employee finding out he is getting a promotion or the staff being told they can take the rest of the day off. A happy employee shows his happiness with:

  • Raised cheeks
  • Wrinkled or tensed lower eyelids
  • Lips drawn up at the corners
  • Parted lips and teeth on display
  • Crows’ feet at the outer edges of his eyes

Read Contempt in Micro Expressions

Contempt is the emotion an individual experiences when she feels something or someone is worthless and scorn-worthy. It often accompanies hatred, but the two are distinct emotions. When an employee feels contempt, one side of her mouth may raise while the other side remains relaxed, creating a diagonal line with her closed lips.

How Fear Shows Itself

Scary things happen at work, like unexpected angry outbursts from customers. A frightened employee shows his fear with:

  • Tensed or slightly pulled back lips circling an open mouth
  • Raised upper eyelids, showing the eyes’ whites above the irises but not below
  • Eyebrows drawn up and pushed together
  • Wrinkles in the middle of his forehead

Don’t Let Surprise Surprise You

Surprises happen in the workplace regularly – good and bad surprises. If a proposed change or feedback from management takes an employee by surprise, her face will show:

  • Widened eyes with the whites showing above and below the iris
  • A dropped jaw with teeth on display
  • Raised, curved eyebrows above stretched underbrow skin
  • Horizontal forehead wrinkles