Anger is one of my closest friends

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20130513-084443.jpgIt may sound strange and it’s true. Anger is a huge part of who I am, it is part of what has got to where I am and what keeps me happy each and every day. How can that be true? Because Anger and I have a relationship that is built on awareness, trust and mutual respect.

There is so much written that ‘sensationalises’ this emotion and some of the destructive actions and outcomes that can be created by it.

By the way, if you are yet to do so, please read a previous post titled ‘No one puts emotions in a corner’ as that helps with the definition of destructive.

When I work with individuals and groups they often talk about how Anger is a negative emotion and they wish that they didn’t feel it.

My view is completely the opposite. I need it. I will even go so…

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The why of the lie

Everybody lies. It is something that we do from being a small child right the way through our lives. We adapt our behaviours and speech to get something we want. As we move towards adulthood we become more and more adept at deception, and as a result, more frequent as liars.
We are even taught to lie and lied to by our parents. “When Auntie Violet gives you your birthday present look happy and say you like it very much”; “If you don’t stop misbehaving the policeman will come and take you away.”; “Father Christmas is watching you and if you are bad you will not get any presents for Christmas.”

Some studies have indicated that the average person can lie around eight times in a twenty minute conversation, but how do we define a lie?

Ekman defines as lie as “A deliberate attempt to mislead without prior consent.” Breaking this down gives some clarity. A deliberate attempt – There has to be intent to deceive. If we repeat a lie told to us by someone else does it still remain a lie? Incorrect information passed on is not a lie, unless the person passing that information on is aware that it is inaccurate. If you believe the information you are passing on, there is no intent to deceive.
Actor and magicians lie to us all the time. The actor pretends to be someone he or she is not. This is surely a lie. They know they are not the person they are portraying, and they are doing their best to make us believe they are. This is where consent comes in. The actor calls it “suspension of disbelief.” The very act of going to a play, watching a movie, or seeing a stage magician is implied consent to be deceived. The audience all know that Anthony Hopkins is not Hannibal Lecter but we accept him in that role.

What about little white lies.
“How are you today?”
“I’m fine, thanks”

We tell this type of lie all the time and there is always something of consent to be deceived about them. This question is a social lubricant allowing the smooth transition of a social interaction. If we translate that question and answer into what it really means:
“I am asking you how you are, but I don’t actually want to know, I am just engaging conversation or being polite to reinforce our interactions or move this conversation forward to the real subject.”
“I know you are being social and have no interest in my well being at the moment, so I will lie to you so we can move this conversation forward or accept that you are somebody that I will engage with socially at a later time.”

Two people just lied to each other and probably didn’t even consider that they were lies. But what would happen if you change the context. What if the question is being asked by a Psychiatrist and the respondent is a patient on suicide watch? There would be no implied consent for deception, indeed a failure to pick up on a lie in this case could detrimental to the well being of the patient.

Next time you are asked a question examine your response. Have you just told a lie, and what was the motive for doing so? Social lubrication, personal gain, avoiding punishment or to protect someone else?

In my area of expertise, it is not when someone lies, it is why?

The conclusion

“Assumption, my dear Mitz, is the mother of all f#%k ups!”

A quote from The adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert. And something we need to be aware of if you are looking for signs of deception. I have already mentioned the lack of a Pinocchio’s nose (I’m a real boy), and in a way this is just as important, it is what Paul Ekman calls, The Othello Error.

We are all guilty of making assumptions every day of our lives, about each other, situations and even places we visit. But making an assumption when you are looking for signs of deception could give you a very different idea of someone’s motives. We like to take short cuts, we want things immediately and on tap and it can be very easy to skip over things that we consider to have no relevance.

Paul Ekman is a scientist so in the study of emotion and deception he followed a scientific process. He set out with a theory, applied a method, came to a result and then tested that result for its tolerance in the face of alternative theories. He tested his hypothesis.

We must do the same whenever we are looking at he emotions of another, and deciding if there is deception. We must deal in facts, of what can we be sure? What emotion was displayed and what evidence is there to confirm that is the emotion we have seen? This needs to be tested against its alternatives. Cognitive load and anger can look the same and many people often mistake fear for surprise and vice versa.

Then we move onto why are we seeing what we are seeing? Is someone swallowing excessively because their mouth has gone dry in response to heightened anxiety or because the air is dry and the have been talking for a while? Maybe the just have a sore throat? And if it is anxiety, is it because they are fearful of being interviewed, disbelieved, caught lying or even has a question brought back an associated event from their past?

The key is there are always more possibilities that you have to consider, and just assuming that the most obvious answer is the correct one is always going to be flawed and terribly unscientific.

Test your theories to destruction, and always be ready to change your conclusion!

This was brought home to me this week when in a discussion with some who professed to know “a lot” about body language accused a colleague of lying to them because he kept rubbing his neck. I happen to know that the individual had been in a minor car accident a couple of days previously and had whiplash. An assumption had been made without one important fact. Not only had they assumed, but they didn’t question or test the hypothesis. They also made a further assumption that this manipulator was a reliable sign of deception. As we know from the science they are not. The are physical or psychological comforters, in this case physical, rubbing the strained neck muscles.

The key is always to think there may be any number of reasons for an action or emotion, what you need to do then is start to look for things that support, or challenge that reason.

The Sociopath Enigma

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We love Sociopaths.  With an almost ghoulish glee we watch the latest dramas broadcast for that thrill of the unknown or unknowable, the darker side of human nature.  Being the observer without being involved.  You only have to look at the shows that are so popular:  Dexter, Bones, NCIS, CSI, Wire in the Blood and many more.  All of them having appearances by, or headlining the psychopath.  The movies are there to tantalize too; Hannibal or American Pscyho.

If you believed everything you saw on television you would think that all Sociopaths are violent criminal masterminds with blood on their hands.  The actual fact is that most people with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (The clinical diagnosis that includes the Sociopath and the Narcissist) would demonstrate no overt violence.  A good majority of them never draw attention to themselves in any negative light.

In the most simple terms, a sociopath has a lack of  conscience.  There is no, or little, emotional connection to those around them, or the world at large.  The connections they make are about personal gain, or “winning the game”.

If every person suffering from ASPD was imprisoned for a violent crime, our prisons would be bursting at the seams.  Consider that one in twenty-five people classifies as having enough of the indicators to be classed a sociopath.  Based on a total UK population of  58 and a half million people, 4% of those are Sociopaths; That is a total of 2,340,000.  Of course it is not all doom and gloom.  That means that 96% of people are not Sociopaths.

The tricky thing when picking out the Sociopath is that their rules are not our rules and their triggers are not our triggers.  We tend to see our world very much in shades of our own.  We measure other people’s behavior on how we think we would act in the same situation.  Quite often the person devoid of any conscience will think very differently about goals, perspectives and cares little for the opinions of others.

The catch is that you can never be sure that you are in the presence of a sociopath, because they look just like everyone else.  They don’t have a t-shirt proclaiming their lack of conscience and they don’t have to let you know by any law.  The sociopath has two very powerful weapons in their arsenal.   The first is the superficial charm.  They can be very engaging people, stand out from the crowd.  They can be the sort of person you meet and feel like you have known them for years.  Paul Ekman himself once said that he would know a sociopath straight away, because he would want to invite them to dinner within five minutes of being introduced.  For most, the sociopath would appear to be “such a lovely person”.  The sociopath is a manipulator with such Machiavellian ability that even when you suspect that something isn’t right, they will have you doubting yourself.

I have been in direct contact with a sociopath, who to this day is probably unaware of this fact.  Let us call him A.  A never really seemed to want much out of life.  But the idea of working for a living was something that just didn’t seem to fit with the life style that he wanted.  He would like to spend his days pottering about the house about a hobby or just watching television.  He had lots of acquaintances, indeed he seemed to develop new ones on a weekly basis, and they were always ready to offer a hand out to get him through when he was struggling.   He claimed depression and this was the reason that he was unable to work, and oh how he wished he could be better so that he could get on with his life.  A had a partner, let’s call him S.  S doted on A.  He would do just about anything for him and was always there when he was needed. Despite this A still managed to develop these friendships that turned out to be so much more.  When S became aware of these assignations, he was told by A that there was nothing to them, and it was just idle gossip from people who wanted to hurt A.  A would often say how pathetic he felt and how depressed.

This is the key to the second weapon that the sociopath uses, and the most powerful.  They use our pity against us.  They make us feel sorry for them.  They manipulate the words and how they feel so that our heart goes out to them.  A performed this feat regularly and potently.

We have since parted ways and had I known then what I know now I would never have got into a situation like that.  The one person I do feel sorry for in all of this is S.  S probably had no clue that he was simply a meal ticket.  When S and A split, S was probably made to feel that it was all his fault, that there was something he had done to make the break up happen.  In reality S was no longer any use to A and had been cast aside.

The sociopath uses our very nature against us. They know far better how we work than we do and they use our compassion and conscience as a weapon against us to further their own chances of “winning the game.”

The American Psychiatric Association states that someone should be classed as a Sociopath of they have at least 3 of the following seven characteristics:

Failure to conform to social norms.

Deceitfulness and Manipulation

Impulsive and failure to plan ahead

Irritability and Aggressiveness

Reckless disregard for the safety of oneself or others

Consistent irresponsibility

Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

Without doubt A had 6 of those seven characteristics.

 

Even today I still look back on the situation as it was and think that I should have known better.  But the fact of the matter is, that even if I had, A would have manipulated the situation to make me doubt myself, even with all my natural instincts.  Key to that fact is that the sociopath having no conscience would not show remorse or guilt for any of their actions.  One of the most valuable factors in detecting deception.  Risk of discovery for the Sociopath is also reduced.  By experience they know they can talk themselves out of a situation, so even if they are caught out, they will have you doubting your own ideas.

 

 

What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on youtube.com these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.

 

It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.

 

I’m a real boy

Is there such a thing as a fool-proof tell that someone is lying?  The Holy Grail of deception detection.

Body Language, expressions, the use of language and even technology have been used to try to give us a hint at lies.  Sadly, to date, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.

If there was such a thing, imagine what our legal system would look like.  Certainly the time spent in courtrooms would be much reduced and police investigation would be a lot simpler.

When we are looking for deception all we can really is look for a sign that something is not quite right.  Paul Ekman calls these signs that something needs to be looked as a Hotspot.   But a hotspot itself is not a sign of a lie, all it tells us is that there is something outside of the normal operating practice of the person we are looking at.  Something has happened out of context, the emotion displayed does not match the words used, or perhaps the words used are distancing or out of context.  Think of someone yelling at you that they are not angry!  The words don’t match the voice pitch, tone and volume, and it is likely that the facial expression would also be angry.  You can be pretty sure they are angry.  As I have said these hotspots do not indicate a lie, only that something has happened that needs to be investigated further.

Consideration should always be given to “Why?”  It is very easy to jump to a conclusion or think about how you might have reacted in the same situation.  We really need to look at all the possibilities of why something happens before we make a statement.  Consider also that other people may react completely differently to the way you may react in a very similar situation.  Assuming a reason for a reaction based on your own personal experience would only be valid if we all exactly the same.   These are very hard habits to break.

When we jump to a conclusion we are at danger of coming to the wrong conclusion.  Paul Ekman describes this as The Othello Error.  Seeing the emotion but misinterpreting the reason for the emotion.  When Desdemona was challenged over her fidelity she became fearful and begged that Othello check her story with her supposed lover.  Othello announced that he had already murdered her alibi.  Desdemona’s fear increased.  Othello saw this fear and made an assumption that this was because she had been discovered and feared for her own life.  In reality she was in fear of being disbelieved and punished for something that she had not done.   Fear of discovery and fear of being disbelieved in the truth is still fear, and looks exactly the same.

Looking at all the possible alternatives for a hotspot is our only defence against making Othello’s error, and there may even be times were we can’t make a decision especially when you remember that it is unlikely you will ever be in full possession of all the facts.

If someone tells you that they have a fool-proof indicator of a lie, are they lying?

Get out of my face!

Personal space is very important to us.  We have boundaries, imaginary fields of the acceptable and unacceptable.  Some are socially adaptive changing their frontiers depending on where we are at the time, some are emotionally adaptive based on trust and acceptance.

Standing on the concourse of Euston Station you can see excellent examples of both situations.

In the UK we are very clear on our personal space.  In most cases, with people we don’t know, our personal space usually extends about two feet from our body.  However, in Japan this can be three feet or more.  In the UK a handshake is an acceptable greeting, it allows that two feet distance to be maintained but is an acceptable invasion of space.  In Japan the formal bow remains distant, it is considered inappropriate to touch.

Most of us maintain comfortable safe distance but we easily adapt to the current situation.  In a crowded railway station the two feet barrier almost disappears.  Even some  elements of physical contact almost become acceptable.  Cram all those people onto a train and personal space becomes restricted to literally just around the head and face. Something that the professional pick-pocket relies upon to ply their trade.  Moving out of the train and back into an open space and our personal borders re-assert themselves.

Emotional barriers work slightly differently, adapting over time and situation.

Two people meeting for the first date usually have their borders firmly in place, but as time goes on these barriers are either reduced, or reinforced depending on the response of the individuals.  Subtle shifts in position and posture, leaning forward, moving the hands into the no-man’s land across the table top are all signs that the barriers are being removed and an invitation to personal space.  Social grooming is the sign of trust and acceptance.  Reaching out to brush lint from a shoulder.

Do not assume that once a boundary has been relaxed that it will stay as such.  These psychological barriers can be very quickly re-established if trust is lost.  Stepping away,  refusing to meet the eyes, flinching away from the grooming hand; all very clear social signals that trust is not given.

Remember, different cultures have very different social rules for personal space, and there are always individual differences.  Don’t assume that someone accepts the same approaches that you will.  Look for the responses to your actions and behaviours.  Don’t assume.

Could you live without fear?

Would you really like to live without fear?

I came across this article a while ago and thought it would be nice to give it an airing and the thoughts associated with it.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12017039

 

Reading through the article it becomes immediately apparent what fear actually does to protect us from harm in our every day life.  This story clearly shows how difficult that fearless life could be.

How on earth has the woman in the article survived?  After reading this article I went further into some of the other research documents.  The woman mentioned regularly put herself at significant risk because she didn’t feel the fear necessary to tell her “This may harm you.”

She did feel fear in the past.  When she was a child she knew that things would scare her just like anyone else.  However, due to a very rare medical condition she has reached the point where the part of her brain responsible for fear no longer operates.  Does her brain not recall the time in the past when she did have fear and let her go through the cognitive process of “this might harm me”?

In the study she was asked to keep a diary of what she did and what happened to her on a daily basis.  According to her own log she regularly stepped into traffic, walked through dark parks at night resulting in her being attacked by a man with a knife and held at gun-point.

In supervised experiments she was introduced to a tarantula.  The spider itself was a particularly dangerous species, she knew this and yet the only feelings she described were feelings of curiosity and wanting to touch the animal.

Fear is one of the best self-preservation mechanisms we have.  It tells us that something is likely to hurt or harm us and actively works to make us avoid that situation.  It is fear that makes us pull back from the growling dog.  It is fear that stops us walking down the alley in the more disreputable parts of town.  It is fear that puts our foot on the brake when someone steps in front of our car.

Would you really want to live without fear?

I don’t think I would.

Isn’t it all a bit…

Isn’t just looking at body language a bit pointless?

I had a discussion over this with a friend a while ago.  We were discussing body language, micro-expressions, she asked “Don’t you think it is all a bit pointless, if you are spending so much time looking at the body language, how are you meant to do anything else?”

How right she is.  Not about it being pointless, but more about the effort of will that is required to focus on so many things happening at the same time.

When we are making an assessment of someone for credibility there are five channels of communication that we need to focus on.  Focussing on five very different areas for the minutia of information and then comparing that with the signals you are getting from the other four channels, it could give you a headache.  Making sure that the questions that you are asking are pertinent and then listening to the response while also thinking the next question up.  Is the response appropriately worded, at the right speed and pitch, is the language distancing?  At the same time what is the posture like, what are the emblems being shown and do the expressions match the details of what is being said?

But if we restrict ourself to just body language, as many practitioners do, we are missing a lot of information.  It would be like looking at a tapestry down a toilet roll tube.  You would only see a tiny part of the image and wouldn’t get the whole picture.

Assessing someone is like driving a car.  You have to control acceleration, gears, clutch, braking, monitoring the instruments, steer and keep an eye on everything that is going on outside the car.  When we first learn to drive, all of these things take a huge amount of concentration, but as we become a lot more accomplished, some things become second nature.  It can be the same with the assessment process.

Some people have an advantage where they have a natural talent, just like some formula one drivers have a natural ability in driving in comparison to your average road driver.

There are ways that you can make this easier on yourself.  Work in pairs or teams with one person asking the questions and listening to the answers, and the other person focussing on the non-verbal elements.

But remember,  before all you must try to establish a base line – the normal operating level of the person.  Without the baseline it makes it difficult to spot the deviations from normal that give us something to focus on.  Baseline does not just happen, and should have some time devoted to it.  Establishing normal operating levels but also what a genuine emotional response looks like.  Take your time and become familiar with normal.

This is something that is nearly always missing in job interviews.  A couple of minutes chatting about inconsequential things can make a huge amount of difference in finding out what is really going on with someone.