How do commuters communicate, and why does it matter?
44’s Elizabeth Mullenger focuses the microscope on micro-expressions to read the signs of body language and its importance, whether you’re commuting or in an office…
Next time you’re on the train, at the bus stop or stuck in a traffic jam, take a look at the people around you. Are they staring into space? Are they glaring at an invisible obstacle holding up the traffic? Is the passenger in the next car chatting away happily, while the driver mutters under his breath about how much he hates Mondays?
These actions are instantly recognisable; we understand, we sympathise, we relate. Consider the guy staring out of the window, daydreaming; is there any way to know what he’s thinking, how he feels, if he’s not doing anything? Yes, if you embrace the world of micro-expressions.
Micro-expressions are brief, involuntary facial expressions that flash on the human face the instant an emotion is felt. They appear for just a few seconds, but can tell us a great deal.
Look back to your fellow commuters; the girl reading on the Tube, has her smile shifted to one side of her face, the lip corner just slightly raised? While at first she looks peaceful, that tiny change could show growing contempt, perhaps at the guy standing in the aisle listening to music so loud it negates the need for headphones…
Take the previously inscrutable traveller staring out of the window. Are his eyebrows drawn together, pointing down? Have his lips narrowed inwards? He could be feeling anger, possibly also focused towards the blatant disregard for every commuter’s train nirvana – the quiet coach.
Patti Wood, body language expert and author, explains: “Because non-verbal cues are sent primarily from the ‘emotional brain’ rather than the neocortex, they create more honest and revealing messages.” 
So what does this have to do with office life? Heightened emotions can easily disrupt the workplace, but rarely do these outbursts come from nowhere. While no-one’s expected to spot every tiny eyebrow twitch, learning to recognise non-verbal cues – low energy, avoiding eye contact, bad posture – means even the most subtle confidence dip could be identified, discussed and overcome, before it ever has to be voiced. Valuable insight if you’re the line manager of a team, or if you’re in a role that involves interacting with others.
Equally, learning to read the signs will also show you who is shining bright and desperate for recognition; so keep an eye out for those straight backs, bright eyes and bushy tails…