How Did You Know What I Was Thinking?

No one can read minds, but they can come close by observing nonverbal displays. Some nonverbal cues are more obvious than others. The obvious cues are easier for observers to read and interpret. Likewise, obvious cues are easier for speakers to control, thus camouflaging their true thoughts. Subtle nonverbal cues are harder to control and reveal more intimate information. One of these subtle cues is the lip purse.

 Lip Purse

A lip purse display is a slight, almost imperceptible, puckering or rounding of the lips. This gesture signals dissension or disagreement. The more pronounced the lip purse, the more intense is the dissension or disagreement. Pursed lips mean the person has formed a thought in their mind that is in opposition to what is being said or done. Knowing what a person thinks gives you an advantage. The trick is to change their mind before they have an opportunity articulate their opposition. Once an opinion or decision is expressed out loud, changing a person’s mind becomes more difficult due to the psychological principle of consistency. Decision-making causes tension to some degree. When a person makes a decision, tension dissipates. They are less likely to change their mind because to do so would mean admitting their first decision was a bad one, thus causing tension. Maintaining an articulated position causes less tension than going through the decision-making process again no matter how persuasive the arguments for change may be. In other words, when people say something, they tend to remain consistent with what they said.

The next time you present a project or proposition to your supervisor, watch for the lip purse display. If your supervisor purses his or her lips during your presentation, you know that he or she has already formed a thought in opposition to your proposal. Once you see a lip purse, you should attempt to change your supervisor’s mind before he or she vocalizes opposition. Empathic statements are ideal for this purpose. Try: “So, you don’t think what I am saying makes much sense. Let me go over a few things that will show you that what I am proposing is the best course of action.” You acknowledge your supervisor’s doubt and present counter arguments to change his or her mind before the negative thought is voiced. Observing for lip purses is also useful when talking with your spouse, colleagues, and friends.

I watch for lip purses during my lectures. If a participant purses their lips, I use an empathic statement to discover what the nature of the opposition is to what I am saying. For example, “You’re having trouble with this concept.” When I use this technique, participants often remark, “How did you know what I was thinking?

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