I had the opportunity to speak about personal branding to a room full of women executives. We talked about the fundamentals of personal branding, and specifically how body language and image impact the perception others have of each of us. After all, the perception others have of us directly impacts their willingness to offer up opportunities we desire.
As I finished speaking, a very polished woman approached me. Sue (not her real name) had an issue she needed help with. “Lida,” she said, “I suffer from B.R.F., and it’s impacting my career, relationships with my colleagues, and my ability to advance in my company.”
Having not heard of B.R.F. before, I asked Sue to clarify.
She explained, “Bitchy Resting Face (B.R.F.) happens when I am concentrating or thinking and my face displays anger, grouchiness, or disgust. I’m not feeling those things, but everyone keeps asking me, ‘What’s wrong, Sue?’ and ‘Are you ok, Sue?’ My boss asks me this constantly in meetings or when passing by my office and I’m on the computer. My colleagues and staff have inquired if I’m upset or angry, and I’m not. It’s simply the way I look when I’m thinking: my mouth curls down in the corners, my brow furrows, and my forehead tenses.
How can I communicate to my team, boss, and colleagues that I’m a happy, focused, and driven professional and not an angry grump?”
Since body language is a huge part of how we communicate, Sue was correct in that this was an important issue to address. In her case, if Sue did not modify her behavior, she risked creating a bigger disconnect between who she is and how she was appearing.
The first step in changing this body language is to become aware when she might be doing it. Sue mentioned that when she concentrates her face forms this B.R.F. Here is how Sue implemented the advice I gave her:
- In her office, Sue glued a little mirror to her computer monitor. This way, when she glances at the mirror, she can see her reflection and remind herself to relax her face to a more pleasant pose.
- On the top of her notepad, which she takes into meetings, she wrote “SML” to remind her to smile… or not frown. She felt writing out “SMILE!” might be too strange for her staff.
- In her car, she put a “SMILE!” sticker in the center of her steering wheel to remind her that even though she’s concentrating on driving she can be mindful of her facial expression. This reminder helps her train her brain to associate concentration with smiling (or at least not frowning);
- When someone asked her, “Are you okay?” because she appeared angry or upset (B.R.F.), she would reply, “Oh, yes! Concentrating on work. Thanks for relieving me!” with a smile.
- In meetings, where others are presenting information and discussing, Sue consciously nods in agreement, takes notes on her notepad, focuses on relaxing the outer corners of her eyes, and pays close attention to making eye contact with everyone in the room. These subtle actions give her body language techniques to focus on, and in turn, her B.R.F. is less obvious.
Whether your resting face is pleasant and inviting, or less than so, the message your appearance and body language conveys is critical to your personal brand. If you are a cheerful, outgoing person dealing with B.R.F., modifying your behavior can make you aware of this condition when it’s happening and save you from the uncomfortable, “Is everything okay?” questions!