By Antoinette Griffin
Strategies for mastering facial expressions that facilitate connection.
“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”
John C. Maxwell, Best-selling Author, Coach and Speaker
I am constantly reminded of how we communicate so much without saying a word. Yet sometimes those communications are received the wrong way by others, all because we may feel one way internally, but what we feel on the inside is showing up with a different meaning on the outside.
Do you have any acquaintances or coworkers who rarely make eye contact or who seldom greet you with a smile? Or maybe they glance at you and quickly look away? When that happens it can feel like you are being slighted; however, there are a number of reasons why people may avoid eye contact or a smile, including:
1. The person is shy, and eye contact and smiling makes them feel uncomfortable and/or awkward. It is common for some who struggle with shyness to feel uncomfortable making eye contact and smile around others unless they know them well.
2. The person is introverted and deep in thought. Introverts spend so much time thinking that they are not avoiding eye contact, rather, it is not a part of their conscious awareness. When they are in their head, some express a “thinking face” (and there are other colorful terms for that) which can be misconstrued as stand-offishness or rude.
3. The person is from a part of the United States or the world where eye contact and smiling at strangers simply is not the social norm or is considered inappropriate. Many people who relocate to Texas from other parts of the country or abroad are surprised at how encouraged it is to make eye contact and smile at strangers.
In my work with those who are introverted or shy, many express that they are not able to easily connect with others, and later are surprised to discover that much of that disconnect stems from their facial expressions.
An introverted business executive was surprised to learn that her entire staff wondered if their company was in dire straits simply because of her constant sour expression. Finally, her assistant came into her office one morning, asking her if everything was okay. “Of course it is—why do you ask?” she asked. “Some of the staff wanted me to ask you. They comment that every time they walk by your office you have a scowl on your face and you are avoiding eye contact.” As the executive reflected on what she was hearing, she immediately had clarity. “I’ve been working on a deadline for corporate, which has been taking a lot of my time and concentration.” As a result of this lesson, she put up a mirror on her desk next to her computer so she could do a daily self-check on her facial expression.
As a formerly shy individual, I discovered that when I was socially uncomfortable, I would clench my jaw and avoid eye contact; not because I didn’t want to connect with others, but because I felt awkward, and that was the physical manifestation of the way I felt internally. I did it because I was shy, yet others saw it as aloofness. I felt awkward and self-conscious; others saw me as someone who did not care to connect with them. Years later I learned how to consciously relax my jaw and mouth to develop a look of curiosity and interest in others.
Another example of the disconnect between internal feelings and external expressions comes from a former client. When Jason first arrived at UT Austin as a freshman, the New Yorker rarely made eye contact with others unless he knew them well. And if he did meet someone’s gaze, he made it a point not to smile. It was not that Jason did not want to connect, he was eager to find his tribe and fit into college life. But in New York, eye contact and smiles are not the norm with those who are not close friends or coworkers. As a result, he wondered how many connections he missed out on during his early days at UT.
Self-awareness is the first step, and learning strategies to overcome these subconscious barriers to connection is the next, key step.
If you are introverted or shy, be sure to register for Communication Strategies For Introverted Business Professionals. In this interactive workshop, you will learn practical strategies to genuinely connect with others non-verbally and verbally in both professional and social settings.
Antoinette Griffin, an Executive Director with the John Maxwell Team, is a certified coach, speaker, trainer and facilitator. She specializes in working with introverts who desire to strengthen their communication, connection and leadership abilities while maintaining their naturally wired behavioral style.
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