Other people can tell a lot about what’s going on in your mind, simply by looking at your face. Unfortunately, they can assume even more. While it’s not our responsibility what others assume, we can make our lives a little easier and try to avoid unflattering assumptions with this helpful little tool.
Repeat after me: “Fix Your Face”
The first time I heard this handy phrase was in my early 20s. I was in a work setting, where one of my co-workers was recounting the unfortunate outcome of a decision she had made, that we had all advised against, that we all knew wouldn’t end well. While we all did our best to listen sympathetically, another co-worker near me leaned over to the person sitting beside her and whispered discretely, “Fix your face.” Instantly, the grimace that was slowly creeping over this person’s face disappeared, and they returned to an expression that looked much less judgmental.
It was the best advice I’d ever overheard. Since then, I try to remember to use it on myself as often as possible. Here are a few examples of when I find it most helpful.
The “What on earth are you talking about?” face
We all have some version of this. Someone asks you a question and you don’t know what they’re referring to, or mentions what they think is a shared memory that you have absolutely no recollection of. You have no idea what they’re talking about. Your eyes may open wide, your mouth may drop open slightly or hitch up on one side, you may shake your head slightly or lean closer and raise an eyebrow. You’re too polite to say the words, but your face is screaming “What the hell are you even talking about?” I’m guilty. We all are. This is a great opportunity to mentally repeat the phrase “Fix your face.” Really, what is that face accomplishing besides making someone feel small? Get it out of there! Try instead to maintain a neutral expression and ask for more information. It’s a win/win situation.
The “I smell it and it wasn’t me” face
Something stinks. Like, really, really stinks. You’re in a public place and something smells to high heaven. Your nose wrinkles up, the corners of your mouth slope down in a cartoonishly exaggerated frown. They don’t call it a “stank face” for nothing! I do this because, for some reason, I think I need the people around me to know that “It isn’t coming from me! I smell it too!” But again, why do I need to broadcast that? What am I accomplishing? Best case scenario a bunch of total strangers look at me and think “She doesn’t stink,” and worst case scenario the guy stocking the shelves a little down the aisle had to walk through a mud puddle last week and can’t afford new shoes and knows the smell is coming from his feet and my stank face makes him feel terrible. It just doesn’t seem worth it!
The “Lord give me strength” face
This one has many uses. It’s the end of a long day and your kid has been talking non-stop for the last hour and a half and asks you their 200th “why” question, or your spouse can’t find their good shoes even though you just explained to them exactly where they are. You close your eyes and roll them skyward at the same time, take a big dramatic breath, maybe press your lips into a tight line. The emoji equivalent of this one is one of my favorites: a little face with three horizontal lines, two for the eyes and one for a mouth. This face says “You are trying my patience and I am being so kind by not screaming at you right now.” But is not screaming really such a kindness when your face clearly shows how badly you want to? This is a good time to take a normal, non-theatrical deep breath for no one’s benefit but your own, and ask for a time out. Give yourself a minute or two to step away and breathe until you’re ready to head back into the fray.
These are just a handful of times I find reminding myself to fix my face makes my life and the lives of those around me a little easier. You’d be surprised how much a good poker face can improve your relationships of every kind, so give it a try! Check in with yourself a few times a day to see if your face could use fixing.