On Emotions Revealed

I recently finished read Emotions Revealed – Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – by Paul Ekman. This book was recommended by best-selling author Daniel Pink as one of the top 6 books on the Art and Science of Sales. This book’s aim, as best summarized by the author: “My goal in writing Emotions Revealed was to help people improve four essential skills, and thus I have included suggestions and exercises in the book that I hope you will find both helpful and provocative. Those four skills are: First, becoming more i consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act…Second, choosing how you behave when you are emotional, so you achieve your goals without damaging other people…Third, becoming more sensitive to how others are feeling…Fourth, carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling.”

Below are key excerpts from this book:

Emotions determine the quality of our lives. They occur in every relationship we care about—in the workplace, in our friendships, in dealings with family members, and in our most intimate relationships. They can save our lives, but they can also cause real damage. They may lead us to act in ways that we think are realistic and appropriate, but our emotions can also lead us to act in ways we regret terribly afterward.

I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell’s observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn’t show the sadness and disappointment he or she reels. Display rules are embodied in the parent’s admonition—”Get that smirk off your face.” These rules may dictate that we diminish. exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.

Nearly everyone who does research on emotion today agrees with what I have described so far: first, that emotions are reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare, and second, that emotions often begin so quickly that we are not aware of the processes in our mind that set them off Research on the brain is consistent with what I have so far suggested. We can make very complex evaluations very quickly, in milliseconds, without being aware of the evaluative process.

I am convinced that one of the most distinctive features of emotion is that the events that trigger emotions are influenced not just by our individual experience, but also by our ancestral past. Emotions, in the felicitous phrase of Richard Lazarus, reflect the “wisdom of the ages,” both in the emotion themes and the emotion responses. The autoappraisers are scanning for what has been important to survival not just in our own individual lives, but also in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

In another study focusing just on smiles, Richard Davidson, a psychologist who studies the brain and emotion, and I found that making a smile produced many of the changes in the brain that occur with enjoyment. It wasn’t just any kind of smile; only the smile that I had earlier found truly signified enjoyment (see chapter 9).

I have described nine paths for accessing or turning on our emotions. The most common one is through the operation of the autoappraisers, the automatic-appraising mechanisms. A second path begins in reflective appraisal that then clicks on the autoappraisers. Memory of a past emotional experience is a third path, and imagination is a fourth path. Talking about a past emotional event is a fifth path. Empathy is the sixth path. Others instructing us about what to be emotional about is the seventh path. Violation of social norms is an eighth path. Last is voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion.

Controlling emotional behavior will not always work. When the emotion aroused is very strong, when we are in a mood that predisposes us toward the emotion, when the event resonates very closely with one of the evolved emotional themes or with an early learned emotion trigger, my suggestions will be more difficult to use. And, depending on the emotion, some people’s affective style—those who characteristically become emotional very quickly and very intensely—will make it harder to control some emotions. The fact that we will not always succeed does not mean that we cannot improve. The key is to understand ourselves better. By analyzing our emotional episodes afterward, we can begin to develop the habit of attentiveness. By learning to focus more on what it is we are feeling, by learning some of the internal clues that signal to us what emotions we are feeling, we are more likely to be able to monitor our feelings. Increasing our ability to spot the signs of how others are responding to us emotionally can alert us to be attentive to what it is we are doing and feeling—and help us respond to others’ emotions in an appropriate way. And, learning about the common triggers for each emotion, those we share with others and those that are especially important or unique for us, can help us prepare for emotional encounters.

These examples are meant to show that having information about how someone feels doesn’t itself tell vou what to do about it. It doesn’t confer the right or obligation to tell that person you know how he or she feels. There are alternatives, depending on who that person is and what your relationship to that person is, the circumstances at the moment, and what you yourself are comfortable with. But spotting sadness when it is subtle does tell you that something important is happening or has happened, that it involves loss, and that this person needs comforting. The expression itself doesn’t tell you whether you are the right person to give that comforting, or if this is the right time to offer it.

We often think we know why someone has become angry with us, but our version of the grievance may not match the other person’s version. While avoiding what makes someone angry leads to resentments, building a backlog of trouble, rarely should the matter be dealt with when one or both people are in the heat of their anger. If it is so urgent that the matter must be dealt with at once, and it cannot be postponed until a cooler moment, then it is important that both people try to be certain that they are past the refractory period. Otherwise, the discussion is bound only to fuel the anger. not focus on what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Neither empathy nor compassion is an emotion; they refer to our reactions to another person’s emotions. In cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to help the other person deal with his situation and his emotions. We must have cognitive empathy, in order to achieve either of the other forms of empathy, but we need not have emotional empathy in order to have compassionate empathy.

While all four of these contextual issues must be considered when evaluating a normal facial expression, or macro expression, of an emotion, they can be especially revelatory when studying a micro expression. They must also be considered when evaluating signs of emotion in the voice, in posture, and in other cognitively based clues to deceit. Most people do not notice micro expressions when they occur during a conversation, when a micro is competing for attention with words, the tone of the voice, and gestures. They are ; also missed because we are often distracted by thinking about what to say next rather than closely watching for a person’s micro expressions.

As I mention in chapter 9, the great French neurologist Duchenne du Boulogne was the first to suggest that the absence of emotion-based muscle movements that most people cannot perform voluntarily “unmasks the false friend.”‘ The absence of such involuntary movements suggests that the expression may be fabricated rather than genuine.

More generally, we have not found any behavioral change that always occurs in every person who is lying; that is why lie catchers must learn to be alert to every aspect of demeanor, tor it is never possible to know ahead of time how important information will appear. This news always disheartens television interviewers and print media writers, who are disappointed I can’t tell them the one surefire behavioral clue to deceit. It doesn’t exist. Anyone who says there is an absolutely reliable signal that someone is lying is either misguided or a charlatan.

A very perceptive and recommended read.

On Turn the Ship Around

I recently finished reading Turn the Ship Around by Captain, U.S. NAVY (Retired) L. David Marquet. Despite having very high expectations about this leadership and transformation journey, given the book’s high ratings, I can definitely say that the book exceeded them in every way. The leader-leader model advocated by David is one that resonates very strongly with me, and the practical and applied manner in which he presents the transformation journey he went through and how one can apply it within their own organization is to be commended.

Below I wanted to share a summary of insights from the book.

In the foreword by the late Stephen R. Covey, on why you want to read this book:

Our world’s bright future will be built by people who have discovered that leadership is the enabling art. It is the art of releasing human talent and potential. You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but a human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only. The world’s greatest problems will be solved by passionate. unleashed “volunteers.” My definition of leadership is this: Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. I don’t know of a finer model of this kind of empowering leadership than Captain Marquet’s. And in the pages Remember, leadership is a choice, not a position. I wish you well on your voyage!

David starts out by denouncing the shortcomings of the traditional leader-follower model:

We’re taught the solution is empowerment. The problem with empowerment programs is that they contain an inherent contradiction between the message and the method. While the message is “empowerment,” the method—it takes me to empower you—fundamentally disempowers employees. That drowns out the message. Additionally, in a leader-follower structure, the performance of the organization is closely linked to the ability of the leader. As a result, there is a natural tendency to develop personality-driven leadership. Followers gravitate toward the personality. Short-term performance is rewarded. When leaders who tend to do it all themselves and rely on personality depart, they are missed and performance can change significantly. Psychologically for the leader, this is tremendously rewarding. It is seductive. Psychologically for most followers, this is debilitating. The follower learns to rely on the leader to make all decisions rather than to fully engage with the work process to help make the organization run as efficiently as possible.

On the purpose of the book:

I imagine a world where we all find satisfaction in our work. It is a world where every human being is intellectually engaged. motivated, and self-inspired. Our cognitive capacity as a race is fully engaged in solving the monumental problems that we face. Ultimately, this book is a call to action, a manifesto, for all those frustrated workers and bosses for whom the current leadership structure just isn’t working. We need to reject leader-follower as a model and view the world as a place for leaders everywhere to achieve this vision. Whether you are a boss, an employee, a teacher, or a parent, you will find ways to work toward this goal.

On the importance of a questioning and curious attitude:

I am not advocating being ignorant about the equipment. For me, however, it was a necessary step to make me truly curious and reliant upon the crew in a way I wouldn’t have been without it. Later in my tour I became a technical expert on all aspects of Santa Fe, but the positive patterns had been set and I continued in the same relationship with the crew. If you walk about your organization talking to people, I’d suggest that you be as curious as possible. As with a good dinner table conversationalist, one question should naturally lead to another. The time to be questioning or even critical is after trust has been established.

Aim at achieving excellence, not just reducing errors:

Focusing on avoiding mistakes takes our focus away from becoming truly exceptional. Once a ship has achieved success merely in the form of preventing major errors and is operating in a competent way, mission accomplished, there is no need to strive further. I resolved to change this. Our goal would be excellence instead of error reduction. We would focus on exceptional operational effectiveness for the submarine. We would achieve great things.

Distributing control by itself is not enough:

We discovered that distributing control by itself wasn’t enough. As that happened, it put requirements on the new decision makers to have a higher level of technical knowledge and clearer sense of organizational purpose than ever before. That’s because decisions are made against a set of criteria that includes what’s technically appropriate and what aligns with the organization’s interests.

On his approach of changing culture:

When you’re trying to change employees’ behaviors, you have basically two approaches to choose from: change your own thinking and hope this leads to new behavior, or change your behavior and hope this leads to new thinking. On board Santa Fe, the officers and I did the latter, acting our way to new thinking. We didn’t have time to change thinking and let that percolate and ultimately change people’s actions; we just needed to change the behavior. Frankly, I didn’t care whether people thought differently at some point—and they eventually did—so long as they behaved in certain ways. I think there were likely some sailors who never understood what we were trying to do and resisted the change to leader-leader, but they behaved as if they believed.

On using regular conversations:

SHORT, EARLY CONVERSATIONS is a mechanism for CONTROL. It is a mechanism for control because the conversations did not consist of me telling them what to do. They were opportunities for the crew to get early feedback on how they were tackling problems. This allowed them to retain control of the solution. These early, quick discussions also provided clarity to the crew about what we wanted to accomplish. Many lasted only thirty seconds, but they saved hours of time…Here is a short list of “empowered phrases” that active doers use: I intend to…I plan on…I will…We will.

On resisting the urge to provide solutions and letting others react to situations:

RESIST THE URGE TO PROVIDE SOLUTIONS is a mechanism for CONTROL. When you follow the leader-leader model, you must take time to let others react to the situation as well. You have to create a space for open decision by the entire team, even if that space is only a few minutes, or a few seconds, long. This is harder than in the leader-follower approach because it requires you to anticipate decisions and alert your team to the need for an upcoming one. In a top-down hierarchy, subordinates don’t need to be thinking ahead because the boss will make a decision when needed.

On the importance of of improving the process as opposed to merely monitoring it:

In his book Out of the Crisis, W Edwards Deming lays out the leadership principles that became known as TQL, or Total Quality Leadership. This had a big effect on me. It showed me how efforts to improve the process made the organization more efficient, while efforts to monitor the process made the organization less efficient. What I hadn’t understood was the pernicious effect that “We are checking up on you” has on initiative, vitality, and passion until I saw it in action on Santa Fe.

On the need for constant communication among the team:

If you limit all discussion to crisp orders and eliminate all contextual discussion, you get a pretty quiet control room. That was viewed as good. We cultivated the opposite approach and encouraged a constant buzz of discussions among the watch officers and crew. By monitoring that level of buzz, more than the actual content, I got a good gauge of how well the ship was running and whether everyone was sharing information.

On deliberate action:

TAKE DELIBERATE ACTION is a mechanism for COMPETENCE. But selling the crew on this mechanism’s value was hard going. One problem in getting the crew to perform deliberately was the perception that deliberate action was for someone else’s (a supervisor’s, an inspector’s) benefit. Even though we continually talked about how deliberate action was to prevent the individual from making silly mistakes, I would overhear sailors discussing deliberate action among themselves in this misperceived way. The second problem was overcoming the perception that deliberate action was something you did as a training exercise. but in a “real situation,” you would just move your hands as fast as possible.

How to more effectively engage employees in training programs:

Want to have a training program that employees will want to go to? Here’s how it should work: 1) The purpose of training is to increase technical competence. 2) The result of increased technical competence is the ability to delegate increased decision making to the employees. 3) Increased decision making among your employees will naturally result in greater engagement, motivation, and initiative.

On active certification as opposed to passive briefings:

DON’T BRIEF, CERTIFY is a mechanism for COMPETENCE. Certification is also a decision point. It is possible to fail a certification. Individuals can reveal that they aren’t prepared to take part in an action because of their lack of knowledge or understanding. Otherwise, it’s just a brief. “Don’t brief, certify” became another example where we basically did the opposite of what we were supposed to.

On specifying goals, not the approach/method:

SPECIFYING GOALS, NOT METHODS is a mechanism for COMPETENCE. In our case, this was because the crew was motivated to devise the best approach to putting out the fire. Once they were freed from following a prescribed way of doing things they came up with many ingenious ways to shave seconds off our response time.

On the importance of clarity:

As more decision-making authority is pushed down the chain of command, it becomes increasingly important that everyone throughout the organization understands what the organization is about. This is called clarity, and it is the second supporting leg—along with competence—that is needed in order to distribute control…Build trust and take care of your people. Use your legacy for inspiration. Use guiding principles for decision criteria. Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors. Begin with the end in mind. Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.

On the need for emancipation:

Empowerment is a necessary step because we’ve been accustomed to disempowerment. Empowerment is needed to undo all those top-down, do-what-you’re-told, be-a-team-player messages that result from our leader-follower model. But empowerment isn’t enough in a couple of ways…What we need is release, or emancipation. Emancipation is fundamentally different from empowerment. With emancipation we are recognizing the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge. We realize that we don’t have the power to give these talents to others, or “empower” them to use them, only the power to prevent them from coming out. Emancipation results when teams have been given decision-making control and have the additional characteristics of competence and clarity. You know you have an emancipated team when you no longer need to empower them. Indeed, you no longer have the ability to empower them because they are not relying on you as their source of power.

A highly recommended practical read in the areas of leadership and personal development.

On Left Brain Right Stuff

I recently finished reading Left Brain Right Stuff – How Leaders Make Winning Decisions by Phil Rosenzweig. The author had graciously provided me with a copy of his new book, as I had previously read and reviewed an earlier work of his (The Halo Effect).

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “They make predictable errors, or biases, which often undermine their decisions. By now we’re familiar with many of these errors, including the following: -People are said to be overconfident, too sure of themselves and unrealistically optimistic about the future. -People look for information that will confirm what they want to believe, rather than seeking information that might challenge their hopes. -People labor under the illusion of control, imagining they have more influence over events than they really do. -People are fooled by random events, seeing patterns where none exist. People are not good intuitive statisticians, preferring a coherent picture to what makes sense according to the laws of probability. -People suffer from a hindsight bias, believing that they were right all along.”

2- “Yet for all we know about these sorts of decisions, we know less about others. First, many decisions involve much more than choosing from options we cannot influence or evaluations of things we cannot affect…Second, many decisions have a competitive dimension…Third, many decisions take a long time before we know the results…Fourth, many decisions are made by leaders of organizations…In sum, experiments have been very effective to isolate the processes of judgment and choice, but we should be careful when applying their findings to very different circumstances.”

3- “Great decisions call for clear analysis and dispassionate reasoning. Using the left brain means: -knowing the difference between what we can control and what we cannot, between action and prediction -knowing the difference between absolute and relative performance, between times when we need to do well and when we must do better than others -sensing whether it’s better to err on the side a’ taking action and failing, or better not to act; that is, between what we call Type I and Type II errors -determining whether we are acting as lone individuals or as leaders in an organizational setting and inspiring others to achieve high performance -recognizing when models can help us make better decisions, but also being aware of their limits.”

4- “Having the right stuff means: -summoning high levels of confidence, even levels that might seem excessive, but that are useful to achieve high performance -going beyond past performance and pushing the envelope to seek levels that are unprecedented -instilling in others the willingness to take appropriate risks.”

5- “Moore and his colleagues ran several other versions of this study, all of which pointed to the same conclusion: people do not consistently overestimate their level of control. A simpler explanation is that people have an imperfect understanding of how much control they can exert. When control is low they tend to overestimate. but when it’s high they tend to underestimate.”

6- “Of course managers don’t have complete control over outcomes. any more than a doctor has total control over patient health. They are buffeted by events outside their control: macroeconomic factors, changes in technology, actions of rivals, and so forth. Yet it’s a mistake to conclude that managers suffer from a pervasive illusion of control. The greater danger is the opposite: that they will underestimate the extent of control they truly have.”

7- “If you believe there’s an intense pressure to outperform rivals when that’s not the case, you might prefer a Type 1 error. You might take action sooner than necessary or act more aggressively when the better approach would be to wait and observe. The risks can be considerable, but perhaps not fatal On the other hand, if performance is not only relative but payoffs are highly skewed, and you don’t make every effort to outperform rivals, you’ll make a Type II error. Here the consequences can be much more severe. Fail now, and you may never get another chance to succeed. By this logic, the greater error is to underestimate the intensity of competition. It’s to be too passive in the face of what could be a mortal threat. When in doubt, the smart move is to err on the side of taking strong action.”

8- “The lesson is clear: in a competitive setting, even a modest improvement in absolute performance can have a huge impact on relative performance. And conversely, failing to use all possible advantages to improve absolute performance has a crippling effect on the likelihood of winning. Under these circumstances, finding a way to do better isn’t just nice to have. For all intents and purposes, it’s essential.”

9- “First, not even thing that turns out badly is due to an error. We live in a world of uncertainty, in which there’s an imperfect link between actions and outcomes. Even good decisions sometimes turn out badly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone made an error. Second, not every error is the result of overconfidence. There are many kinds off error: errors of calculation, errors of memory, simple motor errors, tactical errors, and so forth. They’re not all due to overconfidence.”

10- “The Trouble with Overconfidence,” the single word—overconfidence—has been used to mean three very different things, which they call overprecision, overestimation, and overplacement…Overprecision is the tendency to be too certain that our judgment is correct…He’s referring to overprecision: the tendency to believe a prediction is more accurate than it turns out to be…Overestimation, the second kind of overconfidence, is a belief that we can perform at a level beyond what is objectively warranted…Overestimation is an absolute evaluation; it depends on an assessment of ourselves and no one else…Overplacement, the third kind of overconfidence, is a belief that we can perform better than others…She calls it the superiority bias and says it’s a pervasive error.”

11- “My suggestion is that anyone who uses the term should have to specify the point of comparison. If overconfidence means excessively confident, then excessive compared to what? In much of our lives, where we can exert control and influence outcomes, what seems to be an exaggerated level of confidence may be useful; and when we add the need to outperform rivals, such a level of confidence may even be essential.”

12- “When we have ability to shape events we confront a different challenge: making accurate estimates of future performance. The danger here is not one of overlooking the base rate of the broader population at a point in time, but neglecting lessons of the past and making a poor prediction of the future. Very often people place great importance on their (exaggerated) level of skills and motivation. The result is to make forecasts on what Kahneman and Tversky call the inside view. Unfortunately these projections, which ignore the experiences of others who have attempted similar tasks, often turn out to be wildly optimistic.”

13-“The question we often hear—how much optimism or confidence is good, and how much is too much—turns out to be incomplete. There’s no reason to imagine that optimism or confidence must remain steady over time. It’s better to ramp it up and down, emphasizing a high level of confidence during moments of implementation, but setting it aside to learn from feedback and find ways to do better.”

14- “Duration is short, feedback is immediate and clear, the order is sequential, and performance is absolute. When these conditions hold, deliberate practice can be hugely powerful. As we relax each of them, the picture changes. Other tasks are long in duration, have feedback that is slow or incomplete, must be undertaken concurrently, and involve performance that is relative. None of this is meant to suggest their deliberate practice isn’t a valuable technique. But we have to know when it’s useful and when it’s not.”

15- “When we use models without a clear understanding of when they are appropriate, we’re not going to make great decisions—no matter how big the data set or how sophisticated the model appears to be.”

16- “To get at the root of the problem, Capen looked at the auction process itself. He discovered an insidious dynamic: when a large number of bidders place secret bids, it’s almost inevitable that the winning bid will be too high. Capen called this the winner’s curse.”

17- “But do some kinds of acquisitions have a greater chance of success than others? A significant number—the other 36 percent were profitable, and they turned out to have a few things in common. The buyer could identify clear and immediate gains. rather than pursuing vague or distant benefits. Also, the gains they expected came from cost savings rather than revenue growth. That’s a crucial distinction, because costs are largely within our control, whereas revenues depend on customer behavior, which is typically beyond our direct control.”

18- “The real curse is to apply lessons blindly, without understanding how decisions differ. When we can exert control, when we must outperform rivals, when there are vital strategic considerations, the greater real danger is to fail to make a bold move. Acquisitions ah ways involve uncertainty, and risks are often considerable. There’s no formula to avoid the chance of losses. Wisdom calls for combining clear and detached thinking—properties of the left brain—with the willingness to take bold action—the hallmark of the right stuff.”

19- “Starting a new business involves many of the same elements we have seen in other winning decisions: an ability to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot; a sense of relative performance and the need to do better than rivals; the temporal dimension, in which decisions do not always produce immediate feedback; and an awareness that decisions are made in a social context, in which leaders sometimes need to inspire others to go beyond what may seem possible. Together, these elements help new ventures get off to a winning start.”  

20- “To make great decisions, we need above all to develop the capacity to question, to go beyond first-order observations and pose incisive second-order questions. An awareness of common errors and cognitive biases is only a start. Beyond that, we should ask: Are we making a decision about something we cannot control, or are we able to influence outcomes?…Are we seeking an absolute level of performance, or is performance relative?…Are we making, a decision that lends itself to rapid feedback, so we can make adjustments and improve a next effort?…Are we making a decision as an individual or as a leader in a social setting?…Are we clear what we mean by overconfidence?…Have we given careful thought to base rates, whether of the larger population at a point in time or historical rates of past events?…As for decision models, are we aware of their limits as well as strengths?…When the best course of action remains uncertain, do we have a sense of on which side we should err?”

21- “In his profile of longtime St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, Buzz Bissinger wrote that a baseball manager requires “the combination of skills essential to the trade: part tactician, part psychologist, part river-boat gambler.” That’s a good description for many kinds of strategic decision makers. The tactician plays a competitive game, anticipating the way a given move may lead to a counter-move and planning the best response. The psychologist knows how to shape outcomes by inspiring others, perhaps by setting goals or by offering encouragement or maybe with direct criticism. The riverboat gambler knows that outcomes aren’t just a matter of cold numbers and probabilities, but that it’s important matter of cold numbers and probabilities, but that it’s important to read an opponent so as to know when to raise the stakes, when to bluff, and when to fold. Winning decisions call for a combination of skills as well as the ability to shift among them. We may need to act first as a psychologist, then as a tactician, next as a riverboat gambler, and perhaps once again as a psychologist. In the real world, where we have to respond to challenges as they arise, one skill or another is insufficient; versatility is crucial Even then success is never assured, not in the competitive arenas of business or sports or politics. Performance is often relative and consequences of failure are harsh. A better understanding of decision-making, however, and an appreciation for the role of analysis as well as action, can improve the odds of success. It can help us win.”


Omar Halabieh

Left Brain Right Stuff