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What’s Your Face Telling Your Co-workers?


We’ve all heard that people communicate more with body language than they do with the words they actually speak. But what about facial expressions? If you’re careful not to slouch and cross your arms grumpily, can you convey negative feelings with the look on your face — and not even know you’re doing it?

cranky cat 

(Photo Credit: Living in Monrovia/Flickr)

In short, of course. Acting coach John Sudol is the author of the book Acting: Face to Face, a manual for actors that Carol Kinsey Goman calls one of the best leadership books she’s ever read. At Forbes, Sudol tells Goman that our faces can betray emotions we don’t even have.

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“How your face is structured (the static face) can be responsible for the appearance of emotion even when you’re not particularly feeling anything at all,” Sudol says. “For some people, their face resembles an emotion. For example, a low brow, deep-set eyes or thin lips may look like anger. The pulling down of the corners of the lips might make a person appear to be sad. Arched eyebrows may be responsible for the skeptical look on your face. Or, the deep folds on the side of your nose makes you appear to be disapproving.”

This “static face” is often formed by factors that are largely beyond our control — age, emotional history, ethnicity, and so on.

So what can you do about it?

Step one is to figure out if your static face is sending the wrong signals. Sudol starts off with his clients by performing a face read, in which he tells them what their faces convey when they’re not consciously making an expression. If you don’t have access to an acting coach, the next best thing might be to ask a friend — one whom you trust to be honest when it’s in your best interests — to look at your face at rest and tell you what your features convey.

Once you know what sort of impression you’re giving off, you can practice making small changes that will convey a more positive impression, especially in job interviews or video conferences and the like. Best of all, when you’re inclined to be negatively affected by someone else’s facial expression, you’ll remember that it might not have anything to do with the interaction you’re having at the moment.

Sometimes, as our mothers warned us, people’s faces just freeze that way.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think body language matters at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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