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How Can Your Facial Expression Hurt Your Career

We all know that smiling can make your day better, but sometimes we just aren’t feeling it. Maybe because you’re bored or too focused. See, when you do stuff within work or outside of it, your face is an indicator of what your current mood is. And it always betrays you at some point. What your visage shows will make or break your place (and a possible nickname) in the office.

One facial expression that is common in the workplace, especially for women, is the Resting “B” Face. The B-word is the one that rhymes with pitch or ditch. Get it? Nonetheless, we will get through that expression and a whole slew of others.

What is RBF?

Resting Bitch Face is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “an unkind, annoyed, or serious expression that someone has on their face when relaxed, without intending to.” In short, it’s an unintentional scowl that deters most people or incites secret discussions. The infamy alone doesn’t just stay in the confines of the office, even celebrities are included.

Recently, a behavioral neuroscientist determined the differences of a neutral face with that of RBF. That study has shown a neutral face registers 3% of hidden emotions while ones with RBF have 6%. The hidden emotion in question is contempt. And contempt is not a great-sounding word, especially at work.

These are the other misconceptions on RBF and you:

Being unapproachable

This common occurrence is seen everywhere - work, family reunions, while shopping. Name it. There will always be a certain place or activity and corresponding reaction to it. And with that comes inappropriate remarks like “Can we see a smile there?” and much more.

Being the recipient of all these remarks spell more trouble for the sender more than you. However, in the workplace, it will hurt your career more than you think.

Not a team player

With unapproachability comes the notion of a nonexistent teamwork ethic. This misconception buries you further down into corporate limbo. A fine example would be an inter-company activity where it will need everyone’s part. You, the unassuming subject, are to be approached by your assigned partners in the group. With the unintentional facade that you have, it’s less likely that the so-called team effort will work.

Insubordination or Indifference

Or this means that you don’t care at all. You will be called many names at this point if you have not yet been. Perhaps you just want to clock in and do your work with your head down without incident. You would want peace instead of diving into inter-office mingling. As it turns out, you are the minority and any company would want all its employees to take part in all company matters. This means you’re at the losing end of your argument because of your face.

Effects of having an uninviting face

The unfortunate outcome of having RBF, for all genders borders from plain petty to dangerous indeed. To the average person from the outside, they might feel that it is unjust for the subject of the matter. And it is true to a point.

Here’s what can happen:

Bullying and harassment

This is the least of anyone’s worries, at first. But with repetition and frequency, it could take a psychological toll. This will also affect the work and productivity of the unwitting target in this situation. From then on, it might snowball to a possible “talk” with the immediate manager. All this because coworkers didn’t try to understand the situation first.

Administrative reporting

This is the worst that can happen, to be honest. Imagine one day you were working as normal and then your manager calls for you out of the blue. You then wonder why. One second you are working and then explaining yourself in front of your manager the next. Is someone from your office floor or a teammate out to get you? Or is the reason being your face?

The stigma and how to change it all

The person in question wouldn’t have a face like that unless genetics. And if it is, it shouldn’t be a problem anyway. So what if you have it, it ain’t their business anyway. And it ain’t their face.

But what if it isn’t your normal facade? It could be that they have no idea you’re dealing with something serious. They might not realize that some personal issues are affecting you right now, or maybe a coworker is giving you trouble—and this doesn’t even cover the fact that sometimes people just aren’t in their best mood!.

Whatever it is, it is still your business and prerogative. You are human and you shouldn’t be judged for it. You’re not doing anything wrong anyway. Your face does not necessarily describe the true you.

But we live in a world where judgment takes precedence everywhere. Don’t fret or frown, as you usually would though. We can give you the following tips on how to improve your visage and positively secure your employment.

  1. Give a smile. It doesn’t have to be a full-on smile. It should be enough to neutralize that frown. Try practicing it in front of a mirror until it becomes second nature. An exercise similar to mewing will help relax your facial muscles. Placing your tongue at the back of your upper teeth should do the trick.
  2. If you are a woman, you can use makeup to accentuate parts of your face, like your eyes. RBF tends to have close to squinting eyes and eyeliner and eyeshadow should do the reverse effect.
  3. Still at the eyes, a pair of relaxed spectacles would also work. This will create a diversion away from the RBF and accenting your more interesting side that no one expects.
  4. An eyebrow flash is a precursor to an actual greeting. It is a positive sign that can rewrite your initial office reputation as unapproachable.
  5. If you are talking to somebody and are situated at a lower place than the other person, look up to them. This will change the angle of your face to make it appear that your eyes are wider and your scowl to a slight smile.

If you can’t help but have a natural RBF, you can do the following as prevention for future incidents.

  1. If you happen to have your movable spot in your office space, you can request to rearrange your workspace. This way, you can minimize, if not zero out the possibility of everyone taking a glimpse of your face.
  2. Let other people know that you are not what you seem to be at face value. You may look like you are unapproachable but you can turn things around as easily. Start with the ones you are closest to. Your immediate teammates will do. Let them know your thoughts about things and approach them nicely and understandably. This will ease you in the workplace slowly and lessen whatever negative notions of you that exist.
  3. If all else fails and everything gets out of control, you can involve Human Resources. Provided you have a great corporate track record and the only incident being reported is the RBF instance, this will help greatly. All you need to do is state your claim that you are not who the complainants say you are. Making HR aware of what you are contributing to the company and appealing to understanding your plight should end matters quickly. That is what HR is for - helping maintain workplace decorum and encouraging positive work culture.

Other faces and non-verbal cues

Here are other faces and body language that tells what you or other people might see you do unknowingly.

  1. Downcast Face (or Sad Face). Otherwise known as Resting Sad Face, it looks like a face that’s about to cry itself into a bucket of tears. Same as RBF, it might be inherent or implied. The same tips apply for this face as for RBF.
  2. Poker Face. This is plenty useful in the game table, not in the office. This void of a facial expression displays a lack of enthusiasm and interest, which will cause people to react differently. This will hurt your career growth if it’s a constant. Smiling a little or changing your body language to a more welcoming demeanor should help things your way.
  3. Resting Happy Face or Resting Smiling Face. Appearing to always being happy ain’t bad, right? Right? Well, that might be a double-edged sword. This can be misconstrued as being too approachable or being a yes man/woman/what-have-you. This will leave you open to being taken advantage of - may it be small favors or extra work that can break your already-working routine. For this one, it’s simple - just say no when needed and show that you are human too.
  4. Smug Face. Next to RBF, this may be very harmful to you and your career, if not more. The unintentional air of bravado and unwanted swagger leaves a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. The best advice for this is to tone down the braggart body language. Try to appear confident without garnering negative attention. Also, interact with other workmates by approaching them as humbly as possible so any preconceived notions are thrown out the door.
  5. Hair twirling and other hair play. This mannerism is relatively applicable to women. As harmless an act like this would seem, it tells a lot about the person doing it. It gives off the notion of immaturity or flirtatious overtones. It would be advisable to keep your hands to your sides or over your lap while seated.
  6. Foot-tapping and leg-shaking. This comes off normal when in an interview for employment or when a manager gives you “the talk.” These are understandable within these cases. What’s not understandable is when you keep doing it regardless of the situation. You will come across as restless or impatient, thus being disrespectful to others. You can do this in the comfort of your office corner or cubicle. Keeping still during gatherings would be best at this rate.
  7. Uncomfortable mannerisms. This pertains to touching areas that are a tad undesirable and uncomfortable to others. It may be a mannerism that originated from childhood and brought across the present as a source of comfort. Placing the blame on the actor does not help matters. It would be better if a colleague or a superior can guide the person in question. This way, reparations, and improvements can happen without ever going to HR and escalating.
  8. Appearing to be bored. Slouching or displaying bad posture, fidgeting objects like pens or a ring, and other mannerisms are a dead giveaway. You are bored when you ought not to be. This is a step down from Poker Face. Whereas no expression is still unpredictable, appearing to be bored is too obvious. Children that have a short attention span or A.D.D. have a hard time focusing, especially males. So we can expect the male workforce to have this more than females. This may be a bit hard to overcome but not impossible. With supportive colleagues, superiors, or family members and exercises in mindfulness and being still, it is a slow and steady step in the right direction.


Non-verbal communication is important anywhere. It leaves first impressions and keeps the conversant ball rolling. However, it also is important that not all non-verbal cues are as accurate and intentional as they appear to be.

It would be great if all human resource managers and teams would have a fair shake at certain scenarios that don’t fit so normally. This way, management downward would know how to assess and distinguish unusual social cues better. Training and other resources should also be encouraged and enacted by HR to employees. And to all women (and men too), if the situation truly calls for the RBF, go at it

It is not wrong if you are born with a scowl. It can even be hereditary. But hey, we hope that this article can help you overcome, if not maintain your case and accept that this is normal. Understanding and empathy by your colleagues can go a long way.