By: Kristi Spargo
I believe that the ability to maintain neutrality on your face regardless of whatever emotion is being felt is an under-recognized valuable skill in the professional world. There are some people that are oblivious to others and will carry on a conversation without an upwards glance. Yet there are many more people that read your body language more than you imagine. Body language speaks volumes. You may think that the ever-so-slight shift of your eyeballs in a circular motion went unnoticed, but I can promise you that somewhere along the way, someone noticed it and they haven’t forgotten.
Let’s say you are in a meeting with several colleagues and someone confronts you with a task done incorrectly. First instinct: Face flushes red with embarrassment and anger. Fight or flight kicks in and depending on personality, you launch your defense or completely shut down. On the way out you commiserate with a friend with a frustrated shake of your head and shared whispers.
You are at a conference and an attendee who is known to create problems storms up to the registration desk. He is missing a ribbon, is suddenly gluten-free and the room is far too warm. First instinct: Lips tighten, eyes narrow and muscles stiffen. Your tone is already on the defense and when you turn to get his ribbon, you release an irritable sigh.
A chatty new employee is asking far too many questions, dragging your training out and keeping you from doing your “actual” work. First instinct: Cut her off mid-question and keep glancing at your email and cell, hoping for an out.
These are all imperceptible and normal reactions to frustrating situations, but all behaviors that can be modified to create a more amicable experience both within the organization and with clients.
When confronted with a less than ideal situation at work, first put a plug on whatever emotion is starting to flood to the surface. It is a good idea to practice “wiping the slate” by relaxing your face and clearing your eyes. Take a deep breath, and don’t say a word. When your face and body are under control put on whatever look is most appropriate, maybe sympathy, understanding or inquisitiveness and move forward to solve the problem.
Do you actually need to mean it? Nope. Just fake it at first. There have been many moments that I wished I could unleash the fury that is occurring within my brain, but there have been countless more moments that I am grateful that I kept my mouth shut, that I maintained a good working relationship and that I provided a positive customer experience. An added bonus that I’ve found over the years is that faking it has actually helped me to genuinely react in a calm and professional manner; it just takes a few extra minutes to catch up. There’s always the drive home to let the fury out.