Both female and male boomers and millennials send a message they don’t intend when they unconsciously adopt a sour face that doesn’t match their attitude. And they hinder their career advancement and leadership effectiveness.
The RBF (and RFF) is unmindful sagging cheeks with corners of the mouth turned down. That gives you a look that others see as censorious, unapproachable, or like you are permanently bugged and bummed by something and someone; mad and are plotting revenge.
But you can change that response in two steps:
-First, pull your facial cheek muscles up toward the eyes a half-inch. That turns the corners of your mouth up slightly.
-Second, open lips apart a quarter-inch like when saying the word ‘cheese-whiz’ or ‘eggplant’.
That two-step combination of corners of your mouth up and lips apart a little gives you a look that others see as approachable, interested, attentive, non-judgmental, and self-confident.
Right now stop and take a selfie with your face as you started reading this article then a second selfie after you rearrange your facial expression. (The corners of your mouth turned down or turned up, it’s your choice.) But you must keep the expression consistently whether you are mad, sad, glad, scared, frustrated. It’s a leader’s ‘game face’.
With Boomers gravity pulls the facial muscle, eyes, and jowls downward into a giant frown. With millennials their faces also adhere to gravity as the head is directed to the iPhone and the face left completely blank. Both groups need to retrain facial check muscles into an expression that is awake, alert and alive looking vs the negative appearing resting bitch face or resting fart face.
I’ve heard all the justification for not rearranging your face:
“My face is just in repose.” (Fine if you are alone, behind closed doors.)
“It’s my natural expression.” (No, you learned it from a parent, teacher, boss.)
“This is just how I look.” (Not unless you chose to.)
“I’m smiling on the inside.” (Then do it on the outside too.)
“I’m just not a peppy person.” (Nothing to do with pep; everything to do with taking responsibility for your effectiveness.)
“I can’t fake it.” (For most people their RBF is fake, it’s not how they are at all, it hurts their leadership ability, and they can’t figure out why working so hard isn’t enough.)
In my latest book, The Leadership Mind Switch (McGraw-Hill, 2017) co-authored by Kylie Wright-Ford, we engaged in over a 1,000 conversations with C-level executives and found that being “kindly confident” is one of the qualities required to lead in the new world of work. They describe kindly confident as: comfortable in your own skin; sureness in self; and understanding that other people’s opinions, attributes, and knowledge matters as much or more than their own. And leaders show “kindly confident” with a suggestion of a smile garnered from lifted facial cheeks with lips not too open or too closed.
Research has shown your influence will go the way the corners of your mouth are turned:
-New York University sponsored research shows happier looking people are judged to be more trustworthy. (Something required of a leader.)
-University of Kansas research found cracking a smile even when you don’t feel it reduces the body’s stress response.
-University of Maryland research found emotions influence your face conversely facial expressions influence emotions.
As a leader, if you can’t smile more, at least frown less, because over a short time your expression gets sealed into a permanent facade of extreme displeasure and you look naturally cross and no one wants to follow that. It’s as one man told me, who has the resting fart face, “Once people get to know me they really like me, but they never get to know me because I scare them off with the way I look at them”.
Debra Benton, 970-484-4687 MDT