Archive for the ‘Human Relations’ Category


Want to know whether someone is lying to you? Just look at the person’s eyebrows and lips, they can give you the answer, scientists say. (April ’12)

A team from the University of British Columbia in Canada claimed to have identified four facial muscles that can “leak” a person’s true feelings like guilt, amid intense emotional pressures.

While liars were betrayed by tiny movements that caused them to raise their eyebrows in surprised expressions and smile slightly, innocent people tended to furrow their brow in genuine “expressions of distress”, the researchers found.

A person’s lack of control over their facial expressions meant genuine feelings could be differentiated from fake emotion, they said. Most humans, according to them, can control lower face muscles to talk or eat but those in the upper face are difficult to manipulate and can spark involuntary behaviour.

“Our research suggests that muscles of the face are not under complete conscious control and certain muscles are likely to betray the liar, particularly in high-stakes and highly emotional situations,” Dr Leanne ten Brinke, who led the study, told The Daily Telegraph.  ”Facial cues are an important, but often ignored, aspect of credibility assessments where an emotional issue is in question,” she said.  ”Cues to emotional deception are likely to occur when the underlying emotion a liar is attempting to mask, is relatively strong.”

In the study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour ( april ’12), the researchers analysed facial expressions of a group of people — half of whom were later proved to be lying — as they made emotional televised pleas for the safe return of a missing relative.  They found that deceptive pleaders raised their forehead muscles, called the frontalis, which gave off surprised expressions.

Liars also had increased activity of the “zygomatic majormuscles”, located around the mouth, which caused them to inadvertently lift their lips into a smile, found the team that also viewed over 23,000 frames of video from real-life cases in Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

Dr ten Brinke, from the university’s Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law (CAPSL), said the study found muscles “leaked” signs of true emotion because of the person’s subconscious actions.

This compared to “genuine pleaders”, who activated their inner frontalis and “corrugator supercilli”, located between the eyebrows, which caused them to frown and furrow their brow in a genuine “an expression of distress. While genuine pleaders show real distress on their face, the deceptive pleaders are unable to replicate that same activation,” Dr ten Brinke said. While the findings were important for “lie catchers”, she cautioned they did not provide a “Pinocchio’s nose”.

“Not everyone will leak their true emotions, and some people are better than others at adopting a false face (such as) psychopaths,” she added.


Going to a foreign country? You can study up on Berlitz tapes or Rosetta Stone all you want, but in any culture, the verbal particulars tell only part of the story. Subtleties of tone and posture make up a large part of communication, even between fellow countrymen. The language barrier just puts even more pressure on nonverbal expression. So before you flip the Burmese version of the bird, or try to give a German prime minister a friendly shoulder rub, you should try to have a clear idea of the rubric of understanding through which your gestures will be interpreted, the standards of behavior to follow. Here are some of the most costly slip-ups you’ll want to avoid, most of which would be totally unremarkable back home:

  • Don’t point with your finger.

    This is probably the single most likely body language mistake to get travelers in trouble, because it’s very widely considered rude in many different countries … while in those cultures that lack such a taboo, it hardly occurs to us that anyone would find such a clear and expedient gesture vulgar. After all, we call it an “index” finger precisely because it’s used to, well, indicate things.

    The best alternative is probably to gesture with an open-palmed hand, which makes sense, as it has the connotation of being inviting, rather than potentially accusatory. This latter issue may also be why some cultures do make a distinction between pointing qua pointing and pointing at somebody. It may help to think of your finger as a make-believe pistol: never point it at another human being, even if it’s not loaded.

  • Don’t eat (or do any number of other things) with the left hand.

    Those of us who are southpaws may find this offensive, but in many lands there remains a strong prejudice in favor of the right hand and against the left. Most famously, in India and throughout the Muslim world, the left hand has always been designated for, ahem, certain necessary-but-unpleasant tasks. This is not some xenophobic urban legend, but a simple historical reality: mankind had to develop a lot of other ways to clean up before Cottonelle® came along. Indeed, many people still see our beloved modern convenience as less “clean” and prefer the old-fashioned method.

    Even in countries where Western toilet habits are firmly (but softly?) established, a certain spiritual unease about the left hand is common. The transgressive form of Tantra, for instance, the (rough) Buddhist equivalent of black magic, is called vamachara, “left-handed attainment.” We in the West have our own history of superstitions about handedness; it seems practically universal. Probably it’s that most people are genetically inclined to be right-handed, and we view the unusual as suspicious. If you do use your left hand to gesture, eat, or pass an item to someone, they probably won’t suspect you of sinister intentions or leftist agitation, but they may very well find your behavior gauche.

  • Don’t do the OK sign.

    You know that gesture you make where you join your index finger and thumb, to signal OK? Well, in some places, it’s very much not OK, OK? It means “money” in Japan, signals the “evil eye” in the Middle East, is an aggressive gesture in Brazil, and in Greece or Turkey it’s even more offensive (denoting a certain body part that’s already entered the discussion here, and which people don’t typically like to be called). Unfortunately, the closest American equivalent, a thumbs-up, is also used in certain parts of Asia and the Middle East as a shove-it gesture akin to flipping the bird.

  • No come-hither gestures.

    That curling finger or fingers indicating that you want somebody to head over your way … you can perhaps see how this one could be taken as a bit too forward, even in our own permissive society. There’s something presumptuous, sensual, and potentially creepy about it. But in Asia it’s much worse: it’s considered an insult, a gesture appropriate only for beckoning animals. To Singaporeans it even symbolizes death. Yikes. Considering that Singapore is a common business destination with strict rules and some very colorful ideas about Hell, you might not want to come across as the Grim Reaper.

  • The infamous chin flick.

    In parts of Europe, especially Italy, the gesture of flicking the top of one’s hand out from under one’s chin is a common gesture of defiance or disregard: not obscene, exactly, but very dismissive. On occasion, an innocent scratch of the chin can be mistaken for this contemptuous maneuver.

  • Be careful where you point your feet.

    In many cultures, the feet are considered an unclean body part due to contact with the ground. (Thus the grave insult of shoe-throwing, once directed at George W. Bush, who, one must admit regardless of one’s political leaning, managed to dodge both shots with panache.) Avoid pointing your toes or soles at another. Never throw your feet up on a desk, unless you’re back in America, at your own desk, and you’re a cigar-smoking tycoon with a monocle.

  • V is not always for victory.

    Take the two-fingered victory sign made famous by Churchill (or the hippie peace sign). Now turn it around. What do you get? The number two? Not if you’re in Britain, which is among the countries where this is the equivalent of our middle-finger salute. So don’t try to order two baskets of fish and chips this way, unless you want a scalding cod across your face.

  • Nothing, not even nodding, is universal.

    If you smile at me, I will understand, cause that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language.” That’s an uplifting thought (even in a song that seems to be about survivors of a nuclear holocaust), but is it true?

    To respond with another, older song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Whether we like it or not, in this tower of Babel we call Earth, there’s such a huge diversity of cultures that even a smile doesn’t always mean the same thing. Grin at strangers in Prague or Seoul and they may peg you as a lunatic.

    Meanwhile, in Bulgaria they shake their heads “yes” and nod “no.” To indicate “yes” in India, you shake your head left to right in a “bobble” motion.

So what’s a poor confused traveler to do? First and foremost, just do your homework. For each country you visit, at least skim a guidebook. Is that so much to ask? You don’t want to come across as the famous “ugly American.” When in doubt, reticence is best. Speak and move as unassumingly as possible, especially when it comes to hand gestures.

And do less talking and more listening (and observing). You can take your cues from how others carry themselves. Go by the ancient saying attributed to St. Ambrose: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Unless what the Romans do is flick their chins at you, in which case, it’s probably best not to reciprocate. Capisci?


Julien Smith talks about change and your role in the Universe. Interesting thoughts that you might change your perspective.  You can see more from Julien Smith at his website.

by Michael Schrage

Successful leaders and managers alike constantly stress the importance of developing their employees. But do they appropriately recognize the importance of how their employees might develop them? One of the world’s top coaches thinks not.

While chatting about “coachability” with Sir Clive Woodward — who had coached England’s world champion rugby team and served as Director of Elite Performance for the wildly overachieving British Olympic team — he casually observed that, in reality, the best athletes he had invariably improved his abilities as a coach.

“My top performers ended up pushing me harder than I pushed them,” Woodward said, adding that you can’t help but learn from watching top athletes perfecting their craft.

This mutuality of professional development was a theme of his. Back in the late-nineties, Woodward was arguably the first coach of a national squad to give a laptop to every single player, insisting they be as world-class as IT users as they were as athletes. “Simply using it as a tool wasn’t good enough,” he insisted. “We wanted to be the best using IT.” That squad won a world championship.

Needless to say, Woodward learned a great deal observing how his players used their laptops to learn and make themselves more competitive. Those lessons, of course, made him an even better coach.

That truly great players make everyone around them play better is one of sports’ better championship clichés. But arguments that great players actually educate their coaches are considerably rarer. They’re just as rare in the managerial literature. Woodward and I were on a panel for Tech Mahindra’s European customer event in the U.K. In the panel’s aftermath, I messaged a few friends and colleagues. I asked them to name employees — not colleagues or bosses! — who had dramatically improved them as leaders and/or managers. The most common response was that they’d never been asked before. (One colleague who’d helped grow a start-up to a nine-figure sale responded with the name of a particularly gifted software development project leader who blew him away with his standards of excellence and expectations management.)

Clearly, there’s a “turning bugs into features” quality to this question. Often, coaches and managers learn the most from their most difficult, recalcitrant, or challenging charges. Not to diminish the importance of managing “talented temperamentals,” but that explicitly wasn’t Woodward’s focus. He thought it critical for his own professional development to learn from his players. Do most managers and executives similarly believe it critical to learn from their direct reports? The data suggest not.

Not a single member of my network — nor the organizations I’ve worked with — have a performance review question assessing whether — and how well — bosses improve their own performances by learning from their employees. That seems odd. Reverse mentoring by millennials (and talented college students) to help their 40+ elders acquire better Internet and social media expertise has become more common. Certainly, project managers and new product leaders observe best practices worth sharing.

But how well — and how often — do they monitor how their own management style and insight have been improved by their best people and performers? Our human capital and professional development conversations and evaluations should be more symmetrical. Yes, everybody can recall that boss that made a huge difference. But who celebrates the one or two employees that dramatically improved managerial verve and effectiveness?

Which employee had the biggest positive impact on who you are today?

More blog posts by Michael Schrage
Michael Schrage


Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the new HBR Single Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

By Vanessa Merit Nornberg

Here’s how to make networking work for you–and your business.

Texting AddictsNetworking is at the top of the list of things that make me the most uncomfortable.

Most people who know me are surprised to learn this, because I am a consummate extrovert, but, in truth, I find it daunting to talk to people I have never met, and I hate pretending to be interested in people who are clearly networking to social climb. In the past two years, however, networking has become a very important part of how I grow my business.

Consider these three ideas to take the discomfort out of networking and use it to create real value for your business:

Listening is the best way to start a conversation.

Most people think about networking from the perspective of what they are going to say. Instead, think about networking in terms of what someone else might have to say to you. Last week, I was at an event with other business owners, and a woman mentioned a new sales manager who had just joined her team. Rather than bringing up my own recent hiring challenges (which happened to be at the top of my worry list), I asked her how long it had taken her to find the new recruit, and when she confirmed that the process had been long, I asked what resources she had found most helpful in her search. She gave me several ideas I had never even thought of, let alone tried.

Honesty begets honesty.

Networking tends to bring out the braggarts, the people for whom everything is going just great: stellar sales, smooth cash flow, and growth potential to last a lifetime. We can all spin our stories to sell the audience on how great our businesses are, and doing so is sometimes a great survival skill. However, I find that ditching the PR pitch and honestly talking about my challenges has saved my business more than once. About a year ago, at a networking event, I had a powerful conversation with a business owner I had just met about some financing issues I was having, and it’s a damn good thing I did. He gave me excellent tips on how to assess the potential peril my business was in, and several specific ways to reverse the problem. Had I kept quiet about my woes, I would have missed a valuable learning opportunity.

Everyone has something interesting to impart.

Networking makes people nervous, because they worry they may be thrown together with people with whom they have nothing in common. In my experience, the people who are the most different from me are also the most likely to teach me something valuable. Stepping outside of your circle is one of the most effective ways to begin thinking outside your box–and networking is the perfect chance to get access to a bevvy of different types of thinkers, all in one location. At an entrepreneurs breakfast earlier this year, I sat at a table with no one I knew. I gave myself the assignment to learn about each person’s business, and in the process, I discovered–from a leadership researcher!–a print-on-demand method I could use to make T-shirts to promote my brand. I also found out from the owner of a consulting business about a website-creation tool that would let me sketch out how I want my site to be reorganized. And, just by chance, I wound up talking to an IT guy who tipped me off to an alternative resource for searching for new suppliers, and they proved to be more effective than the one I had been using. None of these people are in my industry, nor did their products overlap with mine, yet they each told me about something I could use.

So think again before you consider skipping a networking opportunity or contemplate hiding out by the buffet table. Networking can make the entrepreneurial journey less lonely, provide you with great nuggets of advice, and force you to do something outside your comfort zone–all of which are fundamental to growing your business.

Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg