The expression on your face when you are interacting with others has as much of an impact as what you are saying – if not more. With that in mind, do you know what unspoken message your face is giving others?
Blink–a recent book by Malcolm Gladwell–cites research to support the concept that a person’s face can do more than mirror the individual’s mood. . .it can create a mood for that individual. That is, if you start your day with a scowl, before long you will become sullen and angry. This, of course, reverses the most commonly accepted pattern, that the mood comes first, then the facial response. The moral: Set the tone for your day with a happy, confident face, and good things are likely to follow.
Well, if our facial expressions impact us that much, how much does our countenance impact others? Plenty, as you know. How we look to people shapes the impression we convey. Example: When I speak or direct a seminar, within a couple of minutes I can identify audience members who are highly interested, along with those who appear bored, distracted, confused, and sometimes hostile. You can do the same in conversations and in business meetings.
Remember that the face includes the eyes. Cicero said it well: “The eyes are windows to the soul.” Look away from someone while you are reporting on a work assignment, and your shifty eyes might suggest you are hiding something. Blink excessively, and you could appear insecure. More positively, maintain steady eye contact to reflect poise and credibility.
Beware of frowning. When you are making a sales call, a frown indicates to your prospect that you don’t feel good about the course of the presentation. You create discomfort for both of you, and lose the likelihood of making a sale.
The most pleasing look: One that fits the tone of the meeting or conversation, and reinforces your message. Johnny Carson and Bob Hope mastered the art of smiling and beaming at the appropriate time. They could milk more laughter out of a joke, even a botched joke, than other comedians could because of their reinforcing facial expressions. Yet we dislike the speaker who smiles or smirks when talking about life and death matters. When you break bad news, you need a solemn face that matches the message.
The next time you’re in a social setting, pay special attention to the people around you. I’ll bet the ones you will want to meet are men and women with animated, cheerful expressions. Likewise, people will consider you attractive, even think of you as a leader, when you smile, nod in agreement and give other signs of warmth and openness.
When I coach executives and other professionals, we videotape our simulated conversations. The taping and the critique that follow pinpoint what my clients need to improve in their demeanor. Once we have discussed problem areas, we videotape follow up conversations, to see what improvements we can foster.
So, while you work diligently on the content of an interview, sales call, meeting agenda and speech, remember to “put your best face forward.”