When you meet somebody for the first time, what do you tend to notice about them? Most people would say it’s their facial expression. You are more prone to remember if they had a big smile or were frowning when you met. Dr. Alan Fridlund, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara says that facial expressions not only matter in first impressions but also give others clues to how you’re feeling.
Facial expressions are like weather forecasts for a person’s emotions: “The face is like a switch on a railroad track,” Fridlund says. “It affects the trajectory of the social interaction the way the switch would affect the path of the train.” Studies by Dr. Fridlund and others show that expressions “occur most often during pivotal points in social interactions; during greetings, social crises, or times of appeasement.” Your career prospects may hinge on your ability to control your facial expressions at work, as they can give others insight into how you’re feeling. Here are three specific situations where letting your true emotions show through your face could negatively impact you professionally.
- Greeting Someone in the Office Who You Don’t Like
When we don’t like someone, it shows clearly on our faces. According to Dr. Fridlund, “a scowl may make them stay clear.” Being openly rude to people is a quick way to turn them off and damage your working relationships. When you greet someone you don’t like, a slight smile is always better than a scowl or a frown. The next time you see a colleague that you don’t really like, remember to say hello.
- Your Workload Is Affected Due to an Unforeseen Event
When a coworker announced their last-minute vacation, you were left with three additional projects. If you sulk and furrow your brow, it will communicate that you can’t handle the situation. Dr. Fridlund explains that “a pout may elicit words of sympathy and reassurance.” While hearing kind words are always nice, they shouldn’t be given under duress. Dr. James Russell, a psychologist from the University of British Columbia believes that expressions on someone’s face can unveil the person’s mood in general if it is positive or negative. Furthermore, surrounding context can give information about specific emotions the individual may be experiencing. If you want to keep your cool at work (and show that you can handle additional assignments), it’s important to manage your workload well and know when to ask for help.
- Receiving a Compliment on Something You Did Well
A smile is generally seen as a good thing, however, it can also come across as arrogant. If you are given a compliment on something you did well, simply say thank you and nod your head to show that you appreciate the positive feedback. A toothy, smug grin is too much, especially in a professional setting.
This doesn’t mean you can’t feel a range of emotions at work. We all communicate through our facial expressions and we all process information uniquely. In other words, be conscious of your facial expressions and how they could shape people’s perceptions of you.
[Related: Oh Yes, You Can Fake an Outgoing Personality at Work]