Without fail, Julie (not her real name) makes sure she gets to work on time and is ready to get going on her job tasks. If you were to ask Julie, she would tell you that she loves her job and loves focusing on ensuring her customers are satisfied. However, Julie will also tell you that her work and ethics are not recognized by either her supervisor or her coworkers; in fact, she feels that she is often ignored or criticized by them. Julie is confused and frustrated. She also feels her job is in jeopardy.
Julie is right. But it’s not for the reasons she may believe. It really comes down to her face, particularly her facial expressions. For Julie, it’s her lack of expression that is putting people off. Julie has been told that she is ‘unapproachable’ and that she is not a ‘team player.’ This has led to problems at work for her that she does not know how to deal with. So Julie keeps to herself all day, focusing only on her work.
Something Julie wants to consider is that her face is leading to her problems at work mainly because she is not being open and inviting in her facial expressions; everything today is how you make me feel. So if her coworkers don’t feel that Julie wants to interact and be a part of the team, or her boss feels she isn’t open to direction or is creating an adversarial workplace, Julie’s troubles will continue until she leaves, either by her own volition or not.
I have seen this over and over with really high-level performers who are having difficulty in getting hired, getting a promotion, or are now a target of criticism. Our facial expressions say so much without us even being aware of what we are conveying. Some people are very intent listeners while others need time to process what’s in front of them; some people fear others anger or criticism or may be having personal problems. These are parts of one’s personality and, while they may be difficult to change, the situation is not hopeless.
One step I encourage my clients to do is to become more aware of their own behaviors; asking friends or family members to observe how their expressions come across leads to that awareness and working to change any adverse behaviors. The act of awareness can help to slow down and think of how you can come across in a more open manner. Smiling is another step to take; practice smiling in a mirror, think of something funny or pleasant, or put a pencil in your mouth – all of these will lead to a smile and create that openness to draw others in.
Another way to turn this around is to have more interactions with your coworkers – ask about their weekend or their kids, have lunch with them, or ask their opinion on something. We all want to know we’re important so finding something interesting about your coworker makes them want to interact more and they think more highly of you. The mood of the workplace lightens and it feels more cohesive. Soon, coworkers will seek you out in a positive way.
Julie began to follow these steps; one she implemented immediately was putting a smile on her face. She reported that she smiled at her boss, whom she said did not expect it from the look on his face, but that he later did smile back as he passed by her desk. Julie truly did smile now and she can begin to turn things around to her benefit.
So, if you’re having problems at work, take stock of how you’re coming across to others and follow Julie’s lead to turn your situation around starting today.