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The Eyes Have It

by Phyllis Pollack
November 2008

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       When you smile, do your eyes smile, too? If not, you’re faking it! According to a recent research study, “. . . the eyes might hold the clues for bogus versus genuine smiles.” (“Rejection Fosters Intuition” by Jeanna  Bryner,, October 17, 2008.)

      As Ms. Bryner notes,

      “ “A real smile is not shown in the mouth; it’s shown in the eyes”. . . “There are muscles around the eyes that are indicative of a real smile, whereas a fake smile just requires the mouth muscles.” ” (Id.)

       The article written by Ms. Bryner actually focuses on the thesis that rejection fosters intuition. “New research suggests [that] individuals who have faced the cold shoulder can more easily spot phony people.” (Id.)

        Based on a study of 32 participants, researcher Michael Bernstein, a doctoral student in social psychology at Miami University in Ohio, concluded that “those primed to feel rejection distinguished the fake smiles nearly 80 percent of the time, compared to 60 percent for the accepted and control individuals.”

       How do they do it? Mr. Bernstein opines that those individuals who have suffered rejection in their lives and thus are primed for it “…are probably looking harder at those faces…” and are probably focusing much more on the eyes to determine, if, they, too, are smiling.” (Id.) Hence, the smile is all in the eyes. 

       Experts in negotiation agree that non-verbal communication or body language conveys much more and is much more telling than the actual words spoken or even the way the words are said. In fact, psychologist Albert Mehrabian opines that approximately 55% of the total meaning of a spoken message comes from facial expressions and other non-verbal communication, while 7% comes from the meaning of the spoken word and 38% comes from the way we say the words.

       Thus, good negotiators focus on the non-verbal cues or body language to determine if the speaker is sincere. This latest study confirms the importance of non-verbal communication: the eyes of a person will tell you a lot. . . is she sincere or faking it?

       In your next negotiation or mediation, look at the other person’s eyes; focus on them and read them. They may very well tell you what is really going on behind that facial expression – including whether the smile is real or fake!

       . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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