People think I’m mad all the time. As it turns out, I just have a “thinking face.” Anything I can do?
This is a problem I’m very familiar with; I too have a “thinking face.” When I am deep in thought my face naturally gets a very stern look on it. I didn’t realize it until my colleagues kept asking me, “What’s wrong?” or “What did I miss?” when we worked together during workshops. My “thinking face” made them feel judged, which is obviously not a good thing. Here are a few ways to fix the problem.
The first step is to analyze your “thinking face.” What do you do? (I tend to squint, furrow my brow, and purse my lips.) When do you do it? During meetings? While presenting? When listening to others present? (My “thinking face” comes out the most when I’m listening to someone else speak.)
Once you are aware of what you do and when you do it, you can work to soften it. When I’m facilitating or listening to someone else present, I periodically check in with myself. Is my face scrunched up or tense? If the answer is yes, here is what I do:
I relax the muscles in my face.
I smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge grin - just a slight smile will do.
I open my eyes wider and slightly raise my eyebrows (“smile” with my eyes).
This makes me appear pleasant and receptive instead of critical and mad. Does it feel natural? Not really. But I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable or that I am criticizing them, so it’s worth the extra effort. And it does get easier (and a little more natural) the more I do it.
My final piece of advice is to be open about having a “thinking face.” If someone catches me giving them a stern look, I casually apologize, use it as an opportunity to laugh, and explain that it’s just my “thinking face.” It lightens the mood and lets them know it is not a reflection on them. Next time they notice it, they won’t jump to a negative conclusion.
A “thinking face” can give people the wrong impression of you or even shut down a productive conversation. Being aware, softening or brightening your facial expressions, and explaining yourself will help counteract any negative feelings it may cause.
Sarah Stocker graduated from Bowling Green State University with a BA in Communication. After college, she spent the first five years working as a stage manager for various theatres in Ohio. After moving to Chicago, she worked as a contractor for several Chicago companies, first stage managing corporate theatre productions and then as a project and logistics coordinator for customized training seminars. She came to Turpin in 2005 as a camera operator, then progressed to her Workshop Coordinator and Coach roles. Sarah managed the creation of Turpin’s eCoach.