What’s the first thing you notice about a person? It’s generally their facial expression. And when you meet someone for the first time, you’re likely to remember if they greeted you with a big grin or a disappointing sulk. First impressions do matter, and your facial expressions can affect how people perceive you. Dr. Alan Fridlund, professor at University of California Santa Barbara, says that expressions are inherently social; they give others clues to how you’re feeling.
Facial expressions can forecast how a person’s feeling: “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.” This is where your career may be affected. Because a facial expression can give insight into how a person feels, it may be influencing how you’re perceived at work. Here are three situations where showing your gut reaction through your facial expression may affect you in the workplace.
1. Greeting Someone in the Office Who You Don’t Like
Our general reaction to someone we don’t like is shown directly through the expression our face makes. Dr. Fridlund says that “a scowl may impel them to stay clear.” This could let the person you’re talking to, as well as the people around you, know that you don’t like them and thus be detrimental to your working relationships. When you greet someone you don’t like, a slight smile is always better than a scowl or a frown. Remember that next time you say hello to a less-than-liked colleague.
2. Your Workload is Affected Due to an Unforeseen Event
You just got three more projects dumped onto your lap when a coworker decided to take a last minute vacation. Sulking with a furrowed brow will directly show that you don’t think you can handle the situation. Dr. Fridlund tells us that “a pout may elicit words of sympathy and reassurance.” While reassurance is nice, it shouldn’t be given by force. Furthermore, psychologist James Russell, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, argues “that facial expressions tell others something about the overall character of a person’s mood–whether it’s positive or negative–and context then provides details about specific emotions.” Managing your workload well (and asking for help when necessary) will lead to a variation of facial expressions, ensuring that you don’t appear incapable of handing extra work.
3. Receiving a Compliment on Something You Did Well
While a smile can be seen as pleasant in nature, it also may come across as smug. When given a complement on a well-completed project or task, say thank you, nod politely, and smile to acknowledge the positive comment. A long, flashy smile with all your teeth showing is overkill, especially at work. Gloating doesn’t bode well in the workplace.
This doesn’t mean you cannot experience varied emotions at work. All people have facial expressions, and we all sense things in different ways. All it means is that you should be aware of your facial expressions and how they’re affecting the opinions from those around you.
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