Body language varies significantly across cultures. What is considered rude or foolish in a Nordic country may be welcomed as warm and friendly in an African one. What a Canadian businessperson would perceive as arrogant, an American executive may see as healthy confidence.
But what remains consistent across all known cultures are microexpressions. These brief, involuntary flashes of facial expression reveal our true feelings about another person or situation.
People might try to hide or obscure them in different ways informed by culture, but to a practiced reader the true emotions are always visible. Consider the contrast in expressiveness between Filipino and Japanese people. In the Philippines, showing emotion — both positive and negative — is a sign of openness and honesty. In Japan, the opposite is true. Visible negative emotion is seen as rude or hostile, while expressing too much positive feeling is considered indelicate. However, when we evaluate people from both countries for their microexpressions, we find that they actually experience emotions at more or less the same level of frequency and intensity. It’s just that the Japanese consciously try to mask their reactions, often by smiling, while Filipinos wear their feelings for all the world to see.
The ability to read microexpressions can be useful anywhere — as we’ve previously shown, salespeople who have this knack get better results — but it’s particularly useful in more buttoned-up cultures, where people are careful managers of the physical signals they send out. [continued]