Put Your Best Face Forward

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Blink--a recent book by Malcolm Gladwell--cites research to support the concept that a person's face can do more than mirror the individual's mood. . .it can create a mood for that individual. That is, if you start your day with a defeated look, before long you will become downhearted, even angry. This, of course, reverses the most commonly accepted thought pattern, that the mood comes first, then the facial response. The moral: Set the tone for your day with a happy, confident face, and good things are likely to follow.

Well, if our facial expressions impact us that much, how much does our countenance impact others? Plenty, as you know. How we look to people shapes the impression we convey. Example: When I speak or direct a seminar, within a couple of minutes I can identify audience members who are highly interested and supportive, along with those who appear bored, distracted, confused, and sometimes hostile. You can do the same in conversations and in business meetings. Sure, once in awhile we will misinterpret the way someone looks. Yet our guess will be accurate most of the time.

Here is a classic case of a man who felt misinterpreted: Though he was highly successful and prominent in his community, what struck most people was his very dour-almost sour-expression. He confided to a friend: "You know, people consider me glum and unfriendly. They think I'm a scowler. I try to assure them I don't mean anything by my demeanor, because I'm not aware of a sullen expression. Even my mother used to tell me I needed to work on the perception I'm creating."

Remember that the face includes the eyes. Cicero said it well: "The eyes are windows to the soul." Look away from someone while
you are reporting on a work assignment, and your shifty eyes might suggest you are hiding something. Blink excessively, and you could appear insecure. Close your eyes even for a short instant, and they will think you are ignoring them, or-even worse-drifting off to sleep.

More positively, maintain steady eye contact to reflect poise and credibility. Notice how many people remove their glasses when they want to impress you while they talk. They want no barrier between you and their eyes.

Beware of frowning. When you are making a sales call, a frown indicates to your prospect that you don't feel good about the course of the presentation. You create discomfort for both of you, and lose the likelihood of making a sale. When your supervisor tells you about a new approach for operating the department, your frown could suggest your unwillingness to consider the change.

The most pleasing look: One that fits the tone of the meeting or conversation, and reinforces your message. Johnny Carson and Bob
Hope mastered the art of smiling and beaming at the appropriate time. They could milk more laughter out of a joke, even a botched joke, than other comedians could because of their reinforcing facial expressions.

Similarly, the best photographs taken of athletes in the most intense moments of a game showcase their faces, which mirror determination, confidence, exertion, exhaustion, disappointment and resilience. Golfer Tiger Woods has attracted millions of fans by his wide range of grimaces, grins and concentration-just as Arnold Palmer did during the 1960s.

From an opposite viewpoint, we dislike the speaker who smiles or smirks when talking about life and death matters. When you break
bad news, you need a solemn face that matches the message.

The next time you're in a social setting, pay special attention to the people around you. I'll bet the ones you will want to meet are the men and women with animated, cheerful expressions. Likewise, people will consider you attractive, even think of you as a leader, when you smile, nod in agreement and give other signs of warmth and openness.

When I coach executives and other professionals, we videotape our simulated conversations. The taping and the critique that follow
pinpoint what my clients need to improve in their demeanor. Once we have discussed problem areas, we videotape follow up
conversations, to see what improvements we can foster.

So, while you work diligently on the content of an interview, sales call, meeting agenda and speech, remember to "put your best face forward."

About the Author:

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., helps organizations strengthen their communication, customer service, motivation and sales, through his speeches, seminars, coaching and consulting. His client list includes the Ritz-Carlton Cancun, CenturyTel, the University of Georgia Athletic Association, the Missouri Bar and Celebrity Cruises. He wrote the book The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! Also, he has written articles for The Rotarian, Competitive Edge and the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Visit his Web site
and sign up for his complimentary monthly e-mail newsletter: http://www.ChampionshipCommunication.com To schedule him for your events, call 770-534-3425 or 800-39300114. E-mail: drbill@...

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