My face tends to get me in trouble. Regularly.
If you know me, chances are you know a lot about me. That’s because you can tell what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling at any given moment.
All you need to do is look at my face.
Since I highly value authenticity, I tend to think this is a good thing. (Though let’s get real. There are times when it’s not entirely helpful).
But recently I learned something new about my face…and it led to one of my most important leadership lessons ever.
(Stay with me. This is not another lecture on non-verbals.)
I was working with a new weight-trainer…and feeling rather cranky because he had me doing a particularly difficult squat with a particularly large amount of weight.
I focused, reached down and picked up the bar. I grunted as I struggled to lift it off the ground.
Just as I thought he was about to offer me some words of encouragement, he said the following instead:
“Change your face.”
I wanted to throw the weight at him. But it was too heavy.
What was wrong with my face? Wasn’t I concentrating like I was supposed to? And didn’t that mean I was a super-focused, hard-working individual?
Then, as I lifted the bar again, I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror.
It wasn’t pretty.
My face was scrunched up and contorted. Every ounce of struggle could be read across my forehead, down my wrinkled nose to my twisted mouth.
I was struggling. And it was obvious.
So, on the next lift, I tried it. I changed my face.
I didn’t fake it. I didn’t smile or try to force out a chuckle.
I just took out the scrunching. I smoothed out my forehead, relaxed my mouth, breathed instead of grunted.
And here’s the fascinating thing.
The lift was easier.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. It was, after all, still a particularly difficult squat with a particularly large amount of weight.
Changing my face on the outside made me feel a bit differently…inside.
It turns out that all of that scrunching and frowning and grunting was giving me permission to get negative before I even started.
It made the whole experience about getting through a struggle, not working toward a victory.
Now I know the truth…that changing my face isn’t just about hiding what I’m really feeling.
When done right, it changes what I actually feel.
And it doesn’t end at the gym.
- When I’m preparing for a difficult phone call, I breathe out the negative thoughts and smooth my expression. No eye-rolling is allowed before, during or afterwards.
- When I respond to an email that feels a bit tense, I do not allow my eye-brows to knit together, nor my lips to curl. Instead, I force a small smile.
- When I’m in line at a store and it’s taking forever, I look at the person behind me and shrug my shoulders in a “that’s the way it is” kind of way.
- My phone calls go better, because I feel less irritated (and I’m more successful)
- My emails are nicer because I feel more pleasant. (and I’m more successful)
- My correspondence with the person behind the counter goes smoothly because I feel more accepting. (and I’m more successful)
The greatest leaders have the greatest faces. They aren’t the most beautiful ones, but they are the smoothest, clearest, strongest faces you’ll see.
They don’t show their struggles. They don’t complain.
They are confident and pleasant, and get what they want…because they change their face.
So try it.
If you’re working on a project you can’t stand…
…if you have to deal with someone you find difficult…
…if you’re feeling frustrated at any stage, in any context, during any part of your day…
…Change your face.
Do it for real. Take out the wrinkles, the scrunches, the eye-rolling.
Get rid of it. Breathe out. Crack a tiny smile if you can.
And notice what happens.
Notice that you don’t just show a better face to others outside.
But that you feel a bit better inside.
Which means you’ll be better at engaging everyone else, and more content in life.
Which means you’ll be more successful at all of it.
Now, go do good…and do it well.