October 3, 2008

Does your face reveal your discomfort?

My drivers license picture is terrible. I look like a thug who might run you over if you cross the street too slowly.

My friend asked me why I didn't smile in the picture, and I told her I was going for "neutral." She said, "Neutral means you have a little bit of a smile."

Oh. So instead I have a picture where my eyes and mouth turn down at the corners and I look like one mean mama.

If you ever watch Rachael Ray, you'll notice that, when she's not talking, she has a goofy grin on her face. The reason? When she's not smiling, she looks like she's frowning.

Are you aware of what your face looks like when you're not smiling? More important, are you aware of what your face is doing when you're being criticized or hearing something you don't like?

The candidates' body language during the debates has been interesting to watch. Because they're all hidden behind lecterns, you don't see much of their bodies. But their faces are magnified on the TV screen, and in the case of the VP debate, we were actually given a split screen on which to watch one's expression while the other was talking.

It's difficult to keep a neutral or positive expression when you're being challenged or attacked, and some of the candidates have done better than others in this situation.

The ones who don't handle it well smirk, smile with tight lips, shake their heads, and look down at the lectern instead of maintaining eye contact with the other person.

The ones who do handle it well continue to look at the other candidate attentively with a neutral expression, sometimes even nodding their heads slightly.

When you're in this position with an audience, being asked a difficult question or facing a heckler, don't telegraph your discomfort to them.

Keep your cool, and that means watch your facial expression. If you look at the other person contemptuously, or roll your eyes, or shake your head, or cross your arms, or huff and puff, or do anything to deride them, the audience will pick up on it.

And where the audience might have been on your side before you started grimacing, they might begin to see you as immature, unprofessional and unable to handle pressure.

You will be uncomfortable at times in front of an audience. Don't make it worse by letting the audience witness your discomfort. Suck it up, stay calm, keep your body language neutral or positive and keep your answers brief, factual and to the point.

The other person may be trying to rile you up, to make you falter, to break you down. Don't fall into their trap. You're better than that.

What does your face look like when you're not smiling?

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