how can I develop a poker face at work?

I’m throwing this one out to readers to answer. A reader writes:

I’d very much appreciate some advice from you and your readers on how to develop a poker face for the workplace. I have had some experiences lately where I know that my face gave away exactly what I was thinking (and what I was thinking was neither positive or productive). I also have a few meetings coming up with some rather combatant colleagues who watch facial expressions and body language very carefully and who pounce if they think they spot something.

It would be great to get some tips from both managers and employees on how to appear neutral so that even if they do pounce, I’m not flattened!

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 346 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate lover

    I can’t offer any suggestions, because I could use some myself! I’m looking forward to what other people say.

    1. Dani

      I have had a HUGE problem in the past with not being able to manage my facial expressions. I am a very expressive person (I talk with my whole body), and when I have a negative opinion about something it’s really hard to hide it. I’ve learned some tricks to be more of a ‘blank slate’ and also a good listener.

      1- Quiet your self talk. Empty your mind and concentrate on what that person is saying. Take notes, so you can look down every once in awhile, and just note what they are saying without forming an opinion.

      2-Body language. I don’t cross my arms, or lean on my elbows, or turn away from the speaker. I keep my hand on the table or busy taking notes, or clasped in my lap. I’m a born fidgeter, and taking notes is my way of combating it.

      3-Positive statements. yeah, they might be saying something like “This teapot is vanilla” when you can clearly see it’s chocolate. Saying, “That’s an interesting point of view”, or “Tell me more” is a good way to keep a contentious situation toned down.

      4-Tone. I keep my voice low, but even. While you might have body language that says you are listening, if your tone is short, fast, or harsh sounding it’s going to override everything else. I like to pretend I’m a PBS announcer, or one of those books on tapes ladies. I keep it calm, and low, and if I have a difficult question to ask, I try to phrase it like it was my mistake I didn’t see the situation they were (inaccurately or not) explaining.

      These are just what works for me, though.

      1. CrazyCatLady

        Good tips! Thanks! I feel that it will be hard to break the habits of listening to my self-talk and not fidgeting/crossing my arms…. but these are all great tips.

      2. JB

        My grandmother was a big fan of the “that’s interesting” type of comment. “That’s an interesting style of hanging curtains, I never would have thought of doing it that way.” You always knew it meant she didn’t like it, but at least she didn’t confront you with it.

        1. Cath in Canada

          My mother-in-law, who’s an avid gardener, once looked at my garden, which is full of dandelions and other weeds, and said “your garden is so very colourful!”. It was like a master class in how to find the positive in anything.

          1. Cloggy McCowlerson

            SUCH a southern thing. When I was doing some side work with some Very Lovely Society Ladies in my almost-southern city, I noticed the need to translate their compliments. For example:

            “Those shoes look so comfortable!” = Those Danish clogs are ugly as sin. Please don’t wear them to this under-the-table sub-minimum-wage job again.

            “I didn’t think clogs had backs on them.” = Dansko is a brand of shoe? I thought maybe it was the Walmart knockoff of the Icelandic goat-milk yogurt I buy at the gourmet store for $5 a serving. And those are not clogs, btw.

            “I think it’s WONDERFUL that you’ve held onto your car for so long.” = Please park a block away so our wealthy customers don’t think anyone who works here drives that rattletrap.

            “Oh, did you knit that yourself? You must be so talented!” = I knit very complicated Fair Isle baby hats from $49-a-skein angora for my daughter’s friends. Your Wool-Ease cowl is giving me hives from four feet away.

            Please don’t adopt this as a way of keeping a poker face at work. It can come across as a passive-aggressive backhanded compliment. OTOH, maybe these ladies–who really were lovely in many ways–really did like my Danskos and my cowl and my ancient (but still running) station wagon. :-)

              1. Editor

                Southern joke about niceness, although the Alabama native who told me this joke used a more offensive curse word than sh*t, which appears in the link below:

                http://www.jokebuddha.com/joke/Thats_Nice

                “That’s nice” had a double meaning forever afterward among the people she shared the joke with.

            1. aebhel

              Gotta admit, I would drive people nuts by taking the compliment at face value and saying ‘Thanks.’

              Not even on purpose, either. I’m a New Yorker and kind of a socially blind one at that, and my feeling is that if you don’t intend to compliment me, don’t do it. I have no ability to read ‘those shoes look comfy’ as ‘those shoes are hideous’.

          2. Nelly

            A friend in University once told me “I love your spelling – you’re so creative!” I loved it, would have had it on a badge. Proud Creative Speller! Or possible Prowde Krehatif Spela!

        2. Jeanne

          There’s a website I go to on Etiquette. There are a number of approved ways to respond to rude comments. One of them is That’s Interesting. Or How Kind of You to be Concerned or similar. I don’t know exactly what would be the response here. You would have to be careful not to sound sarcastic and I don’t think I could manage it. I would think in this case you’d have to be able to say it and then look at them calmly while saying nothing else. See if they get back to the meeting. If not, you’d have to say it again and ask Where were we on (issue)?

      3. Melissa

        Yes, yes, yes, and more yes. I came to say especially #1 – it’s kind of a struggle but you have to keep your mind blank of your own thoughts and feelings. Concentrate wholly on what the speaker is saying; if you have a hard time doing that, concentrate on the sound of their voice, the tone, small details about their own voice and content. Noticing the small details in their speech will give you so much mental exercise that you won’t be forming complex thoughts of your own.

        And “Hmm, that’s interesting!” is my favorite line to say when I don’t have something very positive. I say it in a bright, enthusiastic tone of voice to try to avoid that bless-your-heart quality it can take on.

    2. AllieJ0516

      Ditto! I once had someone in a social setting observe after a third person in our conversation walked away “you don’t hide your poopy face very well, do you…”! I was more than a little embarrassed. Seems the only time that I have a poker face is when I’m playing poker! Hoping for some suggestions myself…

      1. Dani (the other Dani)

        OMG, I was told by an old manager that it looked like I was smelling baby diapers when I heard bad news, lol

    3. JB

      I used to have this problem, and I still do if I’m not paying attention to myself. But in avoiding it, I went too far the other way, and my neutral expression is too neutral. People tend to keep talking and talking to try to get some sort of reaction from me. I didn’t realize how disconcerting it is to have absolutely no nonverbal feedback until I had it happen to me. But now I don’t know how to change it! It’s extra difficult when I’m dealing with my boss because I don’t want to tell her I don’t agree, but she’ll keep going until I either agree or get into an exhaustive discussion with her.

    4. LBK

      Oo, I can totally help with this. I am a master of office stoicism. I had a really really intense manager a few years ago who was a body language expert (I swear he was like The Mentalist) and I had to learn to not show my emotions in order to get through conversations with him.

      My best piece of advice on how to have a poker face is to put yourself in the mindset that everything everyone says to you is 100% infallibly correct truth. Shut off the part of your brain that evaluates what you’re hearing and go into pure information collection mode – store what’s being told to you so you can sort back through it later and figure out how to respond to each piece. Facial expressions and body language are involuntary; they happen based on what’s going on in your head, so tricking your brain into thinking that it agrees with everything that’s going on will cause it to produce an agreeable appearance.

      The above works best when you’re just listening and don’t have to say anything, but if you’re specifically asked to respond to something, respond the way you would if you didn’t know the answer to the question. I usually use “I’m not sure, I’d have to think about it”. If you’re fired up about a certain topic, it’s a lot easier to just not answer questions than to try to craft neutral answers out of strong opinions in the moment.

      A few behavioral tips:
      -Never, ever, ever interrupt someone while you’re trying to stay neutral. Don’t interject or jump in to clarify. Use the “everyone is right” mindset to ignore the urge to cut people off when what they’re saying is clearly wrong.
      -Have a bottle of water or something else you can sip out of. It helps keep you occupied without being fidgety (and on that note, keep all pens far, far away – angrily tapping/shaking your pen is a dead giveaway).
      -Focus on adjusting your posture so you’re always sitting up straight. It forces your body to not just go into whatever pose your emotions are dictating, and if you accidentally start moving into a defensive/aggressive stance, constantly reminding yourself to sit up straight will force you to readjust.

      This is more or less what I do and I’ve been told I am annoyingly emotionless when receiving feedback, so I think it works pretty well.

      1. LBK

        Ooh, one other thing I just remembered after reading Dani’s comment above: I write down all of my questions/responses as I think of them and then I don’t say any of them until there’s a clear gap in the conversation where I can talk through my points all at once. That builds in a delay between when something comes to my mind and when it comes out of my mouth, which is invaluable for mentally preparing my tone and wording to be neutral. It also helps me build a case for my point so that instead of 10 interjections spread out across an hour meeting, my view is one concise statement based on everything that’s been discussed.

    5. Anon Accountant

      Me too. I’ve been known to give people my “death stare” when they’ve really crossed a line so I’m looking forward to advice offered.

      1. SystemsLady

        Same here – could use some help with this and will be writing some of these down.

        Today my coworkers and I were discussing how we were going to handle a troublesome travel requirement of a new client contract that has zero precedent (that part would be clear even to an uninformed listener, just keep that in mind).

        The “busy work” temp (he graduated in the off season and interviewed/got the offer for our position, but ended up accepting another position that wouldn’t start until June…hence temp) was sitting there listening. He is junior career-wise by at least 1.5 years to everybody in the room, by the way.

        You should’ve seen my face today when he jumped into the conversation to say “well, that’s why I didn’t take this job”.

        My face was apparently rather scary.

        It’s going to be hard to mentally bite my lip around this guy. But at the same time, I’m glad we’re only getting grazed by this particular bullet.

        (Might have some stories about him for the open thread tomorrow…)

    6. Eric

      I had similar challenges. Here is what helped me.

      1. Don’t try to change every conversation. Recognize when you are in a situation that requires some restraint. Doing it all the time is exhausting and makes you seem unnatural. Think of it as putting on a more introspective or contemplative skin when necessary.

      2. Find a few natural but neutral body poses. This can help control non-verbal signals. These should comfortable and emphasizing listening skills. Figure it out before the meeting because you will second-guess yourself in the moment.

      3. Find a few neutral follow up words or phrases, things you can say when you first start talking but haven’t formed all your thoughts and don’t want to share too much.

      4. Really listen. Not that you are not now, but listening intently normally delays my response because I am processing what I am hearing. That also means not interrupting even to agree (that one is hard for me).

      5. Finally, be honest and straight forward, especially near the end of the conversation. Hiding too much makes can make many people look and feel unnatural and untrustworthy. Find a way to say what you think or feel in a professional and respectful way. Your employees will thank you for it later.

  2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    Staying tuned for this one, I don’t have this problem in the exact same way my the LW does, but when my boss or the janitor decide to start going off on politics… my face has a hard time staying neutral

    1. Dovahkiin

      I used to be the press spokesman for a political lobbying group and did some debate style tv appearances. I also have an expressive face and since I’m a woman, my “wtf face” on live television seems more combative/aggressive than a man’s, so I really had to focus on a nice neutral face so people would pay attention to my words. When I did media training the tips that worked best for me were:

      Relax your eyebrows to their natural resting position and take your tongue away from the roof of your mouth (it tends to go right there when you’re holding something back – it’s a physical response). This automatically relaxes your face and neutralizes your expression.

      Relax your shoulders.

      Breathe in and out slowly (count up to 6 for each slow inhale and slow exhale).

      Look slightly above the person or to the side near their ear when you talk to them. It looks to others like you’re talking right at them.

      Other techniques if you really have a hard time with tense/stressed facial expression:

      Carrying a small item in your pocket (marble, paperclip, dice) and touching it when you need to feel centered. You basically just discreetly feel it and pay a little bit of attention to how it feels, tiny imperfections, tracing its shape – to take some of the stress off your mind and off your face. Yes, kind of like a totem in Inception.

      Discretely pinching and releasing the webbing between your thumb and forefinger to get your mind off the nonsense you’re hearing.

      It also really helped me to channel a specific character. I think of Angelina Jolie in Maleficent – just a hint of a smile, while the rest of my face is neutral and my eyes scream “MURDER” – the opposite of smizing, but it can’t really be called out as a dirty look.

      1. maggie

        These are all awesome, thank you. That said, I have tried the ‘pinching’ thing, and because it physically hurt (while i was pissed), it actually accelerated my emotions into the bad area. Just wanted to mention that in case someone wanted to implement it for the first time during a really tense meeting. (though I was probably doing it wrong)

      2. Marina

        The tongue tip is golden. I just tried it and I could feel my whole facial expression change. :)

        1. BeckyDaTechie

          Good one. I default to Brenda Leigh from “The Closer”. Since I have a natural Resting B Face, I have to consciously aim at “pleasant” to look remotely neutral.

        2. Swriter

          I get my poker face inspiration from Gus Fring in Breaking Bad. It’s a mix between poker face and impossibly perfect Resting Bitch Face. Werk!

      3. Elizabeth West

        Carrying a small item in your pocket (marble, paperclip, dice) and touching it when you need to feel centered.

        The first thing I thought of was Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. Though the ball bearings didn’t seem to help him much!

    2. Jessica

      First of all… username win! I want to change mine to Titus Andromedon. Pinooooot Noirrrrrr!

      Anyways, I also had a boss that made rude, unbelievable comments, a lot that were political in nature. I wanted to scream. Instead, I would breathe out really slowly and deliberately while counting to 10. It kind of naturally relaxes your face and makes it hard for you to respond, so it’s a win-win where you don’t immediately come back saying something that may get you in trouble. Just make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re sighing! That’s why it has to be done slowly.

      1. Retail Lifer

        Titus, it seems like you’re taking Kimmy’s advice to heart: You can handle anything for 10 seconds!

    3. SystemsLady

      Ugh, sometimes I run into this in my office too.

      I’m better at forming a poker face with politics, though. (I call it the “mmhmm mmhmm” face)

  3. Maxwell Edison

    My half-serious, half-facetious advice is to find a different job. I had to spend the last few months at my old job pretending to balance a book on my head every time I walked to the bathroom or the printer (because in my review my manager said that I tilt my head when I walk, which apparently is a Very Bad Thing). It gets exhausting. You won’t be able to concentrate on doing your actual work if you constantly have to worry about every facial expression you make.

    1. Cristina in England

      Yeah, the thing that is of the most concern to me is the combative colleagues who will pounce on someone for a facial expression!! This is not something I have ever dealt with, and I too have no poker face.

      1. SystemsLady

        Yeah, most people I work with just think of it as a fun quirk of mine. I’m not one to get outwardly angry over an issue that’s purely work-related, so it helps a bit.

        Though my boss is starting to hint at them in a way that implies he’d like me to appear a bit more neutral, so I’m hoping to work on this.

      2. Jodi Dunfield

        I have dealt with that enough (sadly) that I have developed an immediate reply that is apparently stunning. So my co-worker called a meeting with her manager and mine because of a supposed slight to her self-importance she had (mistakenly) perceived, and during her tirade repeating it to the managers she looked at me and said why do you have THAT look on your face? (And later she asked did you just roll your eyes?) and both times I responded matter of factly–I don’t answer questions like that. To which she dropped jaw and her manager asked me well why not? I said I don’t answer questions about my motives or feelings, period. I will share my feelings when I think I should or when I feel it will help, but again, I don’t share my thoughts or motivations with anyone on demand, period. Added poker face, hands on the table calmly folded. (ended my answer) they just moved on and accepted my statement. Bait not taken :)

    2. LizNYC

      That is the most ridiculous feedback! Are you a fashion model? No. Then it really shouldn’t matter! (Nice Beatles reference, BTW)

      1. Maxwell Edison

        I’m the first to admit I have what a friend calls a “glass face,” so I can’t even imagine what my expression was when the manager told me about the head tilt thing. Worst of all, she refused to believe me when I told her it was not a conscious thing and that I had no idea what she was talking about.

        One of the best things about resigning a few months later was not having to worry about the head tilt, or about keeping a vague half-smile on my face at all times in meetings, or about using my “I’m talking to a tantrum-prone three-year-old” voice every time I talked with a coworker or client.

        (Glad you like the Beatles ref, LizNYC!)

    3. Snarkus Aurelius

      I’ve always wanted to ask how that criticism directly relates to my work performance.

      (See my story below.)

      I still maintain that it’s just the way someone who doesn’t like you expresses herself because she’s can’t come out and say that. So it comes out in other ways that are ridiculous.

      I often wonder if those people know how ridiculous they sound?

    4. LMW

      I have a huge issue with people who make assumptions about what they *think* they read in facial expressions or body language. Most of the time it’s their issue, not the person they think they are reading (at least in my experience).

      1. Maxwell Edison

        Oh, my old manager was all about reading things into your expression or posture or word choice, and if you tried to explain why her assumption was incorrect, you were “defensive.”

        Now I freelance from home and can slouch and roll my eyes with abandon.

      2. Lipton Tea For Me

        Totally agree LMW. How you perceive my facials expressions has much to do with your own baggage and the rose colored glasses you interpret such with.

  4. Dani

    Expect the worst from these colleagues. I’ve had to consciously develop my poker face as well, and I found that waiting for something bad to happen helped me with my facial expressions.

    Ironically, I’m calmer when waiting for disaster to strike; because I expect it, I’m prepared. Go into any meetings with these people assuming that they will have negative feedback for you.

    ( I know this isn’t the most upbeat advice, but it worked for me!)

    1. Sadsack

      This is actually what has worked for me on occasion. Knowing that I am going to have a conversation that may be difficult has helped me remain calm and not respond emotionally to whatever is being said. This is easier for me to do when the conversation is planned, such as a scheduled meeting. When the conversation is spontaneous and I am not mentally prepared, that’s when I have a hard time hiding my feelings.

      1. Sadsack

        When I write “respond emotionally,” I mean as in letting my thoughts be written all over my face.

    2. Coffee, Please

      Great advice. Also, in anticipating objections and combative questions, you can prepare counter-arguments and mitigation strategies.

    3. YourCdnFriend

      This has helped me in the past too. I had a few bad experiences where I appeared to “melt into myself” in a meeting when things didn’t go as expected. I’ve found that better managing my expectations and preparing for the worst case scenario really helps.

    4. Fran

      If they start picking at you for your reaction, THEY are out of line, not you. Try a really cool, “Really?” or even “Wow.” Then ignore them, as in turn to face a more congenial person and ignore what the nitpickers say – makes them look foolish, not you.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Having pre-planned, go-to responses is a great idea. It does help. If you use keep using them, people will perceive it as part of your personality, your way of responding to stress or difficulty.
        Think about people who seem to have “it” together. They usually have an “oh, wow” or “I am sorry to hear that” ready to roll right off their tongues. It seems to be part of their way or their makeup. It also buys them a second or two to form their next statement/question.

      2. elikit

        Totes – I’d just practice saying “That’s just how my face looks. Now what were you saying about Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?”

        Dickhead spits out more facial policing.

        You: (super chill voice with at most vague sorry tone) Well, I can’t really help how my face looks right now, so how about we focus on really nailing down the itinerary for the Spiders from Mars?

        1. elikit

          (This I suggest because even if you master your face such that is sufficiently poker-y, that doesn’t necessarily mean combative people will stop being combative about it.)

        2. Awkially Socward

          I totally misread that as “facial profiling” for a bit there.

          As a male who has had his facial expressions misread repeatedly in the past, ‘facial profiling’ sounded like the perfect term for the (often) biased outcomes involved.

          1. Elikit

            Eh, I think you’re heading in that direction because it rhymes with “racial profiling” which is a real and dangerous thing in the world, that gets people killed in worst case scenarios.

            I think “facial policing” works just fine for what this is.

  5. some1

    I was into theater as a kid – the best way is to practice a neutral expression in front of a mirror or with a partner. Ask your partner to mirror your experssion back to you.

    Other things that help: get rid of your tell. If you roll your eyes or want to turn and exchange glances with your friend, focus your eyes immediately on an object on the wall in the moment. Does your face tighten? Force your self to take a slow breath.

    1. BRR

      For me your second suggestion would be great. If you have a tell force yourself to do something else for a second. While in a way it’s still a tell it will hopefully be less obvious.

    2. Celeste

      Yes to all of this.

      It’s better if you can find a non visible way to release that feeling; it’s really hard to just stop the expression without a substitute. It might be something like pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, taking a breath, clenching your thumb in your fist beneath the table, and so on.

      Also, if there are staff who routinely make you feel that adrenaline rush of tension, when they are talking look at a spot on their shoulder or chin. Sometimes looking them right in the eye makes it more intense. Whatever it takes to give yourself a little space in the situation.

      But I also agree with others that you don’t really belong in these shark-infested waters and would surely be happier someplace else.

    3. Bekx

      I was in theater too — it definitely helped me with this! I have a pretty good poker face because I know how to control my face. Mainly due to so many line flubs being hilarious but trying to stay in character!

    4. Clever Name

      Yes. And try to avoid thinking things like “What the hell?!?!?!” or “I can’t believe she said that, what an idiot!!”. If you can change your internal dialogue at work to things like, “Hmmm, that’s interesting” or even just “ok” helps school your expression. I am actually a very emotional person in my personal life, but I’ve been able to become someone who is seen as unruffled at work. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty terrible and unspecific feedback, and I was able to calmly say, “Can you provide an example of what you’re talking about?”, and when they were unable to, I simply said, “Ok” and walked away. I think you have to really work on shutting down the thoughts that are transmitted via your facial expression. When someone says something outrageous, try to empty your mind and concentrate on having a blank expression. Once the initial moment is over, you can say whatever it is you need to (calmly) say.

    5. Not Here or There

      Poker-faces definitely take a lot of practice. I got mine having to sit in endless meetings (that have no bearing on my work) and trying to look interested rather than bored out of my mind. If you normally have a very expressive face, a stone-faced poker face is going to be just as much of a dead giveaway to your feelings as rolling your eyes or grimacing. The trick is to perfect a more thoughtful look of “hmm.. isn’t that interesting?”. I find it’s easier to give an interested, question sort of face, and it works well in all sorts of instances: when you’re bored at a meeting, when your boss comes up to you with yet another “emergency” situation when you’re already slammed, when your coworker suggests something that you absolutely know won’t work, etc.

      1. Sospeso

        I agree – so much practice! You make a great point about a poker face being a giveaway if you’re super expressive.

        I am pretty gregarious, so in addition to the “Hmm, isn’t that interesting?” face you mentioned, I also like to have a neutral inner dialogue about what’s taking place in the moment. So, “My boss is micromanaging me,” becomes “My boss is providing very specific guidance on this project.” It keeps me from having an internal (usually negative) reaction in the moment that then colors the whole interaction. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t give in to a little mental snark later! But it does allow me to consider from a place of rationality rather than react emotionally during the conversation at hand.

    6. StellaMaris

      This is great advice; the mirror is actually better because you aren’t reflexively reading your partner’s expression. Put the poker face on, stare in the mirror, and give yourself silent commands – “poker face poker face poker face”. Do it a couple of times a day until muscle memory kicks in to help out. When the time comes, get your poker face in place beforehand and relax with the deep breaths mentioned above. The distant gaze thing works too, but can backfire if the other people are monitoring you so vigilantly that see you aren’t really making eye contact. Make the eye contact when someone non-hostile is speaking.

      1. Not Here or There

        I don’t know, I find having an actual person to practice it on helpful because when you’re out in the wild, you’ll have to be able to keep your face up when talking to other people/ reading their expressions. The only problem with that is if practice with your spouse and then later use it on them involuntarily while they’re talking about their mother and they notice and call you out on it…

        1. JB

          Maybe a combination–practice in front of the mirror until you think you’ve got it down, and then practice with a partner?

          1. Cath in Canada

            Or practice in front of a mirror while listening to a sports broadcast, audiobook, podcast, or TV show that you’re very invested in?

            A friend of mine once complained to me that she’d got some feedback about letting her negative reactions show too much during meetings. I said “well, fair enough – in last week’s meeting you rolled your eyes so hard I could see it from behind you”. I know from her that it’s not an easy thing to overcome, so good luck, OP!

            (I’ve won a poker tournament in Vegas, so clearly I have some natural ability and don’t really have to think about this! Super interesting reading everyone else’s comments today)

      1. Not Here or There

        Ask someone who knows you really well. I never realized that when I’m upset, I tend to purse my lips really tight and it’s a family trait. My dad always jokes with my husband that if my hubby were to come into the room and can’t see my lips, to run because I’m really angry.

      2. BeckyDaTechie

        Pay attention to what’s tight/tense after a problematic situation. My jaw always hurts, because I clench my teeth to keep from arguing back. When I’m really peeved, my pageant training kicks in and I automatically “improve” my posture, so my neck gets tense too.

    7. LaSharron

      +1 on having someone mirror you. You’d be amazed at how that works. People don’t realize how often they look angry, disinterested, scared, etc. when that’s not the intent.

    8. Elizabeth West

      I was too, but it was community/university theater in college. I remember when we did The Women, and a castmate would blow one particular scene EVERY time and we had to improvise to get her back on track. She did it so much we finally ended up keeping poker faces just to keep from laughing. (Dear, sweet Eunice….we suspected she liked a little nip before a performance, ha ha.)

      Though more recently, I had to relearn it and not make faces when skating. If I messed up, I would go >_< And my coach would tell me, "Don't do that! Keep [smiling, looking dramatic]!" I do it by concentrating on what I'm going to do next.

  6. BRR

    Perhaps before you will be in situations remind yourself that something might be coming so you can have a poker face ready. Do what you need to do to remind yourself. Think “I have a meeting with the teapot design team, remember to not react when they suggest a chocolate teapot.” The harder part might be remembering through the meeting. It makes me think of before I do public speaking to speak slowly and eye contact. Those are my two biggest problems that I am likely to forget so that’s what I need to remind myself of.

    I’m also not sure how your colleagues pounce but you could also prepare with how to respond after they pounce.

    From what you say there might be ramifications if you can’t control your facial expressions and you don’t want to be good at having a poker face due to being reprimanded for not having one.

  7. Coffee, Please

    I completely sympathize with your question OP. It’s hard to control expressions (and sometimes even tears!) for me too.

    Now that I work with at-risk teens who say combative things and try to push buttons, here’s what I do to keep my projected image neutral:
    – Slow breathing using the 4 count in, 4 count hold, and 4 count out method. It lowers my heart rate while I listen so I can be prepared to respond calmly. It also masks my facial expressions because I am concentrating on breathing.
    – When something hurtful, annoying, or enraging is said, I make a mental note to file it away for later and discuss with my husband or trusted colleagues over wine. I tell myself “This will make a great story!”
    – Congratulate myself mentally on keeping a neutral expression and being calm. This mental exercise releases a little “happy hormones” so I can actually keep a neutral expression and be calm.

    1. BRR

      These are all great. I hadn’t realized but I really like how after the event I feel so proud that I was professional about it.

      1. Coffee, Please

        I got the self-congratulations method from my husband who is studying Cognitive Behavior Therapy. His professor used the example of helping you calm road rage by congratulating yourself that you aren’t driving like an idiot. Every time another car almost hits you, congratulate yourself on defensive driving skills. That way your brain is feeling good about your success rather than feeling stabby.

          1. A Non

            It doesn’t sound like a needing praise thing to me – just that you prefer pleasant self-talk to getting angry. Who wouldn’t?

            (I am totally trying this.)

        1. Camellia

          I thought I was the only one who used the phrase “feeling stabby”. Good to know I’m not alone!

    2. Kelly L.

      Option B helped me so much in my retail/food service days. Sometimes the only thing keeping me calm was mentally composing the tale I was going to tell on the interwebs or at the bar afterward!

  8. Risa

    I went through a period at my last job, right before I was laid off, where I was completely burned out. As a result, my emotions were very close to the surface – and my thoughts and expressions were really easy to read. Easier than normal, as I’m generally a very expressive person.

    And I don’t think being expressive is necessarily a bad thing. I think the issue is more your reasons behind the expressions, which you describe as neither positive nor productive. What are the root of those feelings? I think that will give you more insight into how to control your expressions or have a poker face. I was in a toxic environment, completely burned out and in a really negative headspace – and everyone knew it. I couldn’t control my expressions because I could no longer control my negativity.

    Is there a way to turn your negative thoughts around? Or, are you so frustrated that really the best advice is to get out of where you are?

    1. Kate (not-so-new-reader)

      That’s my favourite answer!

      It’s your real emotions you need to fight, not your facial expression!

      I found that there are NO ideal workplace in the world, so I figured that great team is a must gor me, and that I can handle bad client, overly rough beurocracy when I work in a great team. Now, every issue I judge as a normal work issue that needs my time and attention. Even negative feedback from the Client – everything. I am happy at work, so I don’t need to control my facial expression – I constantly make jokes instead :) Every day I come to work, I am happy to see people around, everybody smiles and we often laugh over jokes, when we have short breaks, or even sometimes in the middle of business meeting.

      I see that positive attitude is contagious and ohers become more positive at work, too :)

      Have a REALLY nice Friday! :) And happy next Monday everyone :)

  9. alma

    Well… to me, it sounds like a “combatant colleagues” problem, not a poker face problem.

    I sometimes sit with my the back of my hand pressed against my mouth (not always possible, I know) so that at least part of my expression is obscured. It’s hard to say how to train yourself into a poker face. I grew up in a school environment that pretty much drilled “shut up and behave” into us, so as an adult I have a pretty good flat expression.

    I guess I pretend I’m watching a TV show sometimes, if I really need to.

    1. Coffee, Please

      I have done the “pretend I’m watching a TV show” thing in crazy meetings and I haas worked!

    2. EarlGrey

      agreed, the poker face sounds like a good skill to learn but definitely not the heart of the problem here! I’d work on a response to the inevitable “pounce” – assuming they’ll say something regardless of how good you become at acting neutral. Having a stock response like “I hear you on that, just give me a minute to collect my thoughts” or “Why do you ask?” might help you maintain calm and (more importantly!) not get drawn into an unproductive argument.

      Perhaps writing notes would help too? That would let you look down rather than at their faces, and buy you some time with a “Hold on, just want to get this thought down before we move on.” if someone confronts you with a nasty question.

    3. Kelly L.

      I do this too! If I’m seated, I’ll rest my elbow on the table and my face in my hand (hard to describe, I’ll see if I can find a picture) so that my palm covers my mouth.

      For what it’s worth, I think I have a relatively unexpressive face but dramatically flushing skin, so I think my success rate varies ;)

      1. Another Ellie

        I hate blushing. I have very, very fare skin, which means that there is no way to hide it, it happens often, and it sticks around. Here at least they usually assume that I’ve gotten sick or something.

        1. JB

          Me, too. And most of the time, I’m not even embarrassed, and I am with someone I’m not uncomfortable with, so I don’t even always know why it’s happened.

          1. Another Ellie

            I often blush in meetings just because I say something — not something dumb, just speaking in general. I’ve learned to ignore the hot feeling and just act like it’s totally normal to be bright red and suddenly sort of sweaty.

        2. Kelly L.

          And when it happens due to the weather, I usually have people wanting to cart me off to the hospital. I’ll come in from the heat/cold and resemble a tomato, and everybody’s like “OMG ARE YOU OK CAN YOU BREATHE WHAT’S WRONG OMG OMG” and I’m just like “it’s my skin, it’s been this way since I was a baby.”

      2. Tax Nerd

        If I concentrate on it, I can keep my face fairly neutral, but I do have to think about it. I’ll have to mentally tell myself “Don’t let cheeks or forehead move”. Doesn’t always work, but it helps a lot of the time. I’m not sure my eyes are so neutral, but that’s less easy to read than an upset face, perhaps.

        Luckily, I’ve had practice dealing with clients. If a client is upset about how much they owe (or their refund not being what they hoped), I just reminded myself that I don’t have enough control over their life to determine how much money they make, or how much they mess around with their withholding. As soon as I knew that the issue wasn’t my fault, I could take the emotion out, and just look at it as something that needed to be explained some more, rather than something where I needed to be on the defensive. (If it’s a true mistake on my end, and can’t be fixed, that’d be something else.) I don’t know that that helps OP, if her (his?) colleagues are such sharks. That does sound like a toxic environment.

        In meetings, I used to write something nonsensical or doodle as a distraction. I might doodle a spiral when someone was going on and on and on, or draw a cube when someone was being a blockhead. Focusing on that gave me a couple of seconds to compose my thoughts and my facial expression. Now that I take my notes on a computer, I might type something quickly in a heated moment. Either just type what they said so I can get the quote right for later, or even just an acronym for what I was thinking. ICBWTJS for I Can’t Believe What They Just Said, for example. Something that wouldn’t be deciphered by a shoulder-surfer (or someone going through my trash).

    4. Windchime

      I actually taught myself to be non-expressive when I was a kid. I had a parent that liked to needle and taunt me, so I decided early on that I wasn’t going to give Parent the satisfaction of a response. So I just learned to keep my expression totally blank when I want to. Normally I have a very expressive face and I don’t mind expressing how I feel (by smiling, looking confused, whatever). But thinking of the blank expression that I taught myself to do so that Parent couldn’t see whether or not they were affecting me has come in quite handy.

      People think that they can “always tell what I’m thinking”, but that’s only true *when I want them to*. The rest of the time, I just put myself into that mode where I purposefully keep my expression blank.

      1. Catherine in Canada

        I grew up in a “you cry, you lose” kind of household too. Not the best way to learn a poker face. I’m still not very expressive.

        1. Dynamic Beige

          Not so much a “cry, you lose” but more of a “what have you got to be so happy about?” Emotions were not appreciated at home. When your parents both lack empathy, you learn that anything you feel makes you a target and that they don’t care what you feel. At school it was cultivating the “if you act like you don’t care/they aren’t getting to you, eventually they will go away and leave you alone.”

        2. Nashira

          Yeah, it then becomes hard to learn to show emotion, rather than hard to hide it. Fun times.

          1. Windchime

            Yep. I had a friend tell me recently that I am “guarded” to people who don’t know me. Uh, yeah. You’re not getting anything from me until I know that you are not going to go for my jugular.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius

    I once had a boss tell me I had a terrible poker face so it’s interesting how you and I had opposite reactions.  

    I was offended because my boss always took great care to analyze what was on my face whereas she never did that with the men in the office.  Furthermore, my facial expressions apparently set her mood.  It was irritating because if my face wasn’t smiling or happy, she assumed I was pissed off and stressed when I wasn’t.  Whenever I concentrate or ponder something, my face scrunches up.  It doesn’t mean I’m mad, but the fact that I have to be cognizant of it that much more irritates me because it’s something a man never has to worry about.

    So I don’t worry about it and you shouldn’t either.

    “I also have a few meetings coming up with some rather combatant colleagues who watch facial expressions and body language very carefully and who pounce if they think they spot something.”

    If they’re combatant like my boss was, then I highly doubt perfecting a poker face will do the trick.  People like that are itching to look into ANY minor detail so they can confirm what it is they’re already thinking.  You said it yourself, “…if they think they spot something.”  That means they’re not focusing where they should be (the issue at hand) because they’re looking for a fight or a justification to criticize you.

    By the way, when I did tweak my poker face?  My boss got upset anyway because she thought my blank face meant I didn’t care about she was saying.

    Mark my words: you’re not going to win so do what you have to go and soldier on.  Don’t get distracted by this frivolous feedback because that’s all it is: a distraction.

    1. Serin

      A person like that is like an emotionally abusive parent: She feels that she has the right to control not only what you do but how you feel. There’s no winning with people like that.

    2. puddin

      I would second these thoughts. Unless your non-verbals and your verbals do not match..e.g. Panic on your face while saying, “Of course we will meet the deadline.”… or if you are just too expressive ala Stretch Armstrong in the face, I would not consider this a huge issue.

      Being expressive is not a handicap, it is a valuable communication style. I might try adding words to your non-verbals so others know you are fully aware of your expressiveness. *Pinched look on face* “Yeah I have said that a number of times already, we need to build in more lead time for the white chocolate tea pots.”

    3. Anonforthis

      Ugh this is my exact situation right now! My boss sits directly across from me (open floor plan, shared 4 person cubicle) and she is analyzing my face/body language/reactions all day. She recently pulled me into a meeting and told me she felt like there was “bad energy” between us and that I seemed “disengaged”. I was so annoyed. I asked if my quality of work had suffered in any way. “No, your work is great.” Note that I have not said or done anything to provoke this reaction, besides perhaps being a little more quiet at the office than usual (trying to zone in and concentrate on getting my work done during a very busy season working overtime), and she is moody as hell. But now she’s going to put me on an “improvement plan” at my next review (in about a week). And we are “graded” on things like “passion and enjoyment of work,” not actual metrics or goals. It’s so subjective. Grrrrrrr

      1. Partly Cloudy

        Wow, that’s awful.

        I’m in a shared 4-person office right now too and my boss sometimes tells me I’m looking at her like she’s crazy. Sometimes during a work-related conversation, sometimes during chitchat. :/

      2. A Non

        Ugh. The best way I know of to piss someone off is to insist that they be happy. I hope you’re able to get out of there soon.

        Until then, are there little things your boss values, like saying hi in the morning or using particular catch phrases? People tend to like having their habits echoed back at them, she might interpret that as whatever she’s looking for.

      3. Snarkus Aurelius

        You need to make a stink about this, especially if you’re a woman.

        Yes, I get this can happen to men too, but men don’t have a history of being evaluated on how they come off to others in addition to their regular duties.

        You’re right that it’s totally subjective, which doesn’t make this process right.  You know how I evaluate someone’s passion for the job?  She shows up, does well, takes initiative, collaborates effectively, and causes minimal errors.  Note that none of those things have anything to do with what’s on her face because what’s on your face isn’t an indication of what’s going on in your head.  (Just ask any charming serial killer.)

        Feel free to use the term “gendered feedback” because that’s what it is.

        This may seem like an unworthy hill to die on, but think of it another way: you already have enough responsibility and major things to worry about at work.  You don’t need the added angst about something that literally has zero impact, as you say, on your results.  It’s no different than worrying about what color your socks are.

        1. Dynamic Beige

          I borrowed “Lean In” from the library a few days ago. Haven’t finished it but so far she covers a lot of this unconscious gender bias in the first few chapters.

    4. YourCdnFriend

      What an awful situation and it’s sounds like it’s not super uncommon.

      I truly support those in this situation to blow past these “recommendations” to have a better face (weird wording but that’s what it sounds like!).

      But, I don’t know that all situations are like this. I know I have to do a better job controlling my facial expressions in certain environments not to please others but just straight up professionalism (very different things). I once changed the tone of a meeting entirely because of my facial and body reactions. I wasn’t expecting a certain line of discussion and I involuntarily (but totally inappropriately) reacted with a body slump, exasperated sighs and looks of extreme despair (I am naturally melodramatic). That wasn’t the right thing to do and I learned from it going forward.

      But, that is totally different from someone being super demanding about all your facial expressions and judging your face. I can’t tell from the OP’s letter which situation this is…

    5. Lipton Tea For Me

      Totally agree with Snarkus Aurelius. You cannot change something subjective to meet the expectations of others as you will never win.

  11. brown-eyed girl

    I am pretty good at this, so I’m told. What works for me is that I am an introvert, so I tend to mull things over anyway before I respond. I kind of will let my mind go blank for a minute, which helps my face to also be blank. Another trick is to start counting in your head as the person is talking, so that you are already self-soothing before you need to speak or react.

    1. DMented Kitty

      People at work seem to think I’m pretty good at this, too. My boss always says she can’t “read” what I’m thinking, even after 3 years of being with the team. To me it’s normal. Maybe the introversion is a factor?

      I suck at games that require a poker face, though.

  12. misspiggy

    My face magnifies my negative emotions. If I try to keep my face ‘straight’, it droops and I look like I’m about to cry. I’ve mostly managed to deal with this by forcing myself to focus on the funny side of a situation that’s going south – or the hilarious idiocy of the person I’m dealing with. At least then I’m smiling, so I can’t be accused of being unprofessional.

    If someone had the unmitigated gall to criticise me for looking unhappy, I think I’d say that my feelings are not relevant, but here’s my professional opinion on what could be done to improve the situation under discussion.

    1. allisonallisonallisonetc

      I actually don’t hide my anger (or annoyance) as long as it actually is relevant to work. I mean, I don’t go punching walls and I try to keep my voice even (aka not yelling) but when my manager acknowledges there’s a sexism problem but refuses to do anything to fix it, or I’ve been bringing up a serious issue for months and keep on getting the run around, I’m not going to attempt to hold a poker face and let the other person possibly think it’s not as serious as it is.

      That said I do have the annoying (to me) response of crying when I’m angry and I do try to keep that in check for “professionalism’s” sake.

    2. SJP

      I have a bitching resting face, so whenever I dry and keep a straight face I look like i’m about to rip someone’s head off or something…
      The pains of having a bitchy looking face, and that’s just my face

        1. Windchime

          Me either. I would feel like I looked like a lunatic if I were walking around smiling all the time at …..what?

          1. BeckyDaTechie

            Think of the Wicked Queen from “Snow White” and Maleficent from the animated “Sleeping Beauty”. Both wore flawlessly beautiful, almost pleasant faces much of the time, even though they positively dripped evil. Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland were good at the “not quite RBF” look too.

      1. HeyNonnyNonny

        I actually wish I had a stronger bitchy resting face. Looking friendly by default, even when you’re not, means that you never sit alone on the Metro, and people always try to talk to you.

        1. Monodon monoceros

          Yes! I have a bitchy resting face, but for a while made a concerted effort to not look so bitchy. It was actually super annoying. People were constantly trying to make chit-chat with me out in public- on airplanes, on the subway, etc. Now I only try not to have my bitchy resting face when I’m in a work-related situation, like staying at a hotel where I know there are other people from a work meeting staying, or something like that.

  13. American Abroad

    I’m not sure if this counts as advice, but I try to stop myself from making judgments on whatever is being presented to me until the individual is finished (whether in a one-on-one meeting or a large group setting). When they finish, I come up with language like, “that’s interesting, let me think about that” even if I find it to be a completely stupid idea. I know that this won’t work for every situation, especially those where you are required to give feedback right away, but it’s helped me stay neutral (and thus my face staying neutral as well).

    Another trick I try in meetings where someone is telling me something outrageous (living abroad, my boss has said some out there stuff that would be crossing all sorts of lines in the States) is to go outside of myself, for lack of a better description. It’s not dissociation, exactly, but more like a stage performance where I am on stage playing a character and the real me is on the sidelines watching on. This can take some practice; I honed this skill while tutoring college students in writing. I had to read their papers on the spot and give advice right away, which meant that the students would study my face as I was reading for clues on how their paper was. I got real good at having a “concentrated, but noncommittal” face.

    1. Coffee, Please

      I agree with your advice on stalling and asking for time to think over suggestions before responding.

    2. Newbie

      I absolutely agree with this “dissocation face” idea. I have this – unfortunately it is a direct result of a defense mechanism created when growing up. Long story short, horrible stepmother eventually diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, but never really wanted to take or stay on her meds – so it was always a roller coaster ride. For some reason, she really hated me and did all sorts of really evil things to me and my friends to try to alienate me from everyone. This went on for many years until I was old enough to move out, and it has taken me almost as long to learn how to control my emotions now that I am not “under a microscope”. I don’t know how to advise someone else to evolve into this type of mind-set with regards to how your face shows or does not show emotion, but I know I am extremely guarded. Most people I know have no idea – unless they know me really well – because I also developed the ability to hide it behind humor. If someone offends me, or is an ass – I make a joke, let it roll off of my back and go on. As far as the face thing – we have endless meetings and group conference calls at my office, along with presentations galore – and I second the solution that you act as if you are in a play where everyone is watching. I just always still feel like I am being judged and may be attacked (verbally) at any moment (some things just never go away), and my face is just as friendly (I had to learn this) but as neutral as possible, so as to not warrant undue attention. I do find that I concentrate very fully on the person speaking, and I find myself nodding in agreement much of the time. My co-workers may hate that about me, but it is the interal dialog thing +100, but with a professional, productive spin on it all the way. ‘This is a really good idea…how can we make this work for us? What steps would we need to go through to bring this to fruition? Is this financialy feasible for our department, organization, etc.?’ Things like that are what I am concentrating on when I am in meetings or group environments and need to “soften my poker face” a bit. I hope this helps! Good luck!

  14. Dorth Vader

    When I was in high school I did JROTC (military-esque training for high school students), and military bearing was one of the things we learned. I have a great poker face now. One thing that works for me (like someone above said) is focusing on something on the wall or in the distance and regulating my breathing. Even if someone is in my face, focusing on something over their shoulder helps. Apparently I’m so good that people I used to teach with couldn’t tell when I got bad news before coming in (like my Grampy getting cancer and my mom deciding to Facebook me about it less than an hour before work).

    1. OhNo

      This was going to be exactly my advice. I didn’t do JROTC, just speech and theatre in high school and college, but the idea is the same. If you need to be blank, look at something inoffensive, like the wall or the table, and focus on your breathing for a few breaths. It works great — I’ve been told that it’s very disconcerting to watch, too, since by using this technique I can go from extremely emotional to completely dead-eyed within the span of a second.

      Alternatively, if blank doesn’t work for you (because it doesn’t for everyone), choose one expression/emotion and stick with it. Develop and practice a persona that goes along with it, if it helps, and just practice putting the face and attitude on at random times during the day to get used to it.

      As an example, a dear friend of mine has a truly terrible poker face, but she can slip into amused condescension at the drop of a hat, no matter how she’s actually feeling. I’ve seen her use it to great effect on some of the misogynistic jerks she works with.

      1. gingersnap

        Yes! My high school theater teacher made a very big deal about the importance of a Strong Neutral Position. So for the past fifteen years, that’s what I’ve focused on during difficult conversations. Good posture, arms at my sides, hands relaxed, feet shoulder width apart.

  15. Beebs the Elder

    I have a very expressive face when I’m not trying to hide my feelings–sometimes too expressive. But I do have to put on the neutral face a lot of the time, so here are my tips, for whatever they are worth.

    In a one-on-one or small group situation where I have to be very attentive, I try to really focus on what the person is saying and on his/her emotions/needs rather than my own–even if I completely disagree with what’s being said or think it’s ridiculous. I mimic the person’s body language, a little–leaning back or forward, that kind of thing. If I think about the other person’s perspective, I’m less likely to wear my own response so obviously.

    I know what a neutral face feels like. That might sound funny, but there’s a way my mouth feels when I have an undifferentiated expression on and so when I have that feeling, I know what my expression is.

    If I’m in a bigger group and don’t have to be directly responsive to the person talking, I sometimes look at a spot on the wall directly behind the person’s shoulder. It looks like I’m paying attention (and I am) but somehow it makes it easier to keep my neutral face than if I’m looking directly at the person.

    Thanks for this interesting question–I’ve never thought about how I keep a poker face on, but it’s an important part of my job. I imagine people have to find their own weird ways, but these are mine. Good luck!

    1. C Average

      “I know what a neutral face feels like.”

      This is a good thing to know and might be helpful for the OP. Spend some time when you’re not in an emotional situation just figuring out what your neutral resting face feels like, so you’ll have a go-to expression when you need it. “Go to neutral face” might be more actionable for you than “Conceal your emotions.”

      1. Camellia

        I can actually take this one step further. I pick up other peoples’ micro-expressions very well and can instantly think, “If my face looked like that I would feel (fill in the blank).” I sometimes surprise people by how well I can read them.

  16. Brian

    I struggle with this with two combatitive Execs. My advice is, instead of worrying about keeping a neutral face, focus on naking facial expressions that disarm them or are the opposite of what they pounce on. I pretend to be talking to a sweet elderly grandma when i talk to our CFO – soft eyes, gentle smile, nodding, inquisitive. It is easier for me than trying to think “don’t show disdain, don’t let your eyebrows shoot up, don’t look naseous and angry or like you’re fantasizing about punching this weasel.”

    1. Liza

      I skipped a few words and misread that as “I pretend to be a sweet elderly grandma when I talk to our CFO,” which could be another strategy!

      1. SJP

        ha! That’s equally as hilarious. I genuinely might try both of these when a colleague says something that would make me show my emotions all over my face

  17. YandO

    I’ve got the same problem. My boss thinks he is “good at reading people” so every change in my face is an expression of something and he MUST know what that something is.

    I’ve plainly said “My thoughts are private and they are not all about you. If I have something to say, I will say it, otherwise I would appreciate it if we can stop discussions of my thoughts and feelings”

    Remember, people cannot read your mind, so if they put you on the spot, say “I had a cramp” or something along those lines. You do not owe them explanation of your thoughts and feelings, no matter what came across your face.

    1. Jeanne

      Good for you. I was thinking the same thing. If they stop the meeting to comment on your face, say I have no idea what you are talking about; you can’t know what I am thinking unless I say it; let’s get back to (business issue). You can’t win with these people. Don’t play.

      I have been there. My boss told me I breathed wrong in a meeting and it meant something about an issue. I told her that my breathing is breathing and has nothing to do with anything. She was a crappy manager in all ways and yours is to for doing this to you and allowing others to do this to you.

      Try to be assertive. Not aggressive. Assertive involves respect for others and respect for yourself. You can stand up for yourself.

      1. Maxwell Edison

        Oh my God. “Breathing wrong”? That sounds like something my old manager would have said. I have to stop reading these comments; I’m getting anxious all over again.

    2. elikit

      Oh god, spare me from people who have watched too many “smartest man in the room” dramas (Lie to Me, Mentalist, etc.) and now think they are like all over micro-expressions and knowing what people are thinking!

  18. Emmy Rae

    Can you take notes? That helps me pretend to keep my cool in meetings. Then as soon as I can I step outside for some fresh air.

  19. jhhj

    A short-term fix can be to do something slightly painful — bite your cheek, pinch yourself between the index finger and the thumb, etc.

    1. Beezus

      I do this when I’m trying to steady my nerves. I press my thumbnail into my index finger, and focus on the minor pain.

  20. Steven

    Maxwell is absolutely right, you should probably start looking for (and get) a different job. Just remember that when other people interpret your facial expressions, that it’s THEIR interpretations. In Maxwell’s case, maybe by tilting his head he is stretching out one side of his neck. Perhaps it’s his way of thinking about something (which of course is always work related). The point is, no one knows what your thoughts or emotions are. They are yours. One tactic I’ve used is to simply acknowledge what they’re saying by nodding my head, half smile (depending on the subject matter), saying “ok” or “I get that”. Eventually maybe your facial expressions will be associated with “you get what they are saying”, even if you’re laughing inside.

    I hope this helps. Smiling and acknowledging can be much more difficult than containing your inner laughter.

    1. Sospeso

      +1 I have misinterpreted how my close friends and family are feeling based on their body language on occasion! And that’s having spent approximately 10 billion more hours with them over the years than I have spent one-on-one or in small groups with my coworkers. The way your coworkers interpret your facial expressions might say more about them than you (assuming you’re not making outrageous expressions, which I am :) ). I second what Steven and Maxwell have said: it might be worth looking for a less stressful working environment.

  21. John

    You need to see everything that happens at work as a play. You are the spectator. It helps you detach emotionally so you aren’t so unconsciously compelled to react to stupid/crazy ideas and direction.

  22. C Average

    I don’t have a solution, but I have a story. (Don’t I always?)

    There’s a woman in our department who has been with the company for more than 35 years and is generally regarded as a company treasure. She knows the company history chapter and verse, she can be depended upon to jump in with the perfect answer when a complicated question arises, she has impeccable judgment, and she’s funny and wise and approachable. We will be bereft when she retires.

    She’s kind of become an unofficial mentor to me, and I semi-regularly swing by her office to talk shop. Recently I asked for her advice about how to act on the not-very-actionable feedback I got on my review, and she just laughed and said, “Every single year, my review says I need to learn to control my expressions better, especially in meetings. After 35 years, I still haven’t figured out how to do that!”

    In all seriousness, I think a lot depends on what kind of expression you’re wearing that could be cause for concern.

    If you look bored, zoned-out-or grumpy, you might want to try some exercises that involve relaxing your facial muscles to try to achieve a more neutral resting face. Otherwise you do risk coming off as unapproachable or even hostile and unfriendly.

    If, though, the problem is that you’re TOO expressive–if you’re trying to figure out how to mute out the “WTF?” expression you get when someone proposes storing the chocolate teapots outside in August–I dunno. I mean, you’re human. If your higher-ups are regularly proposing things you know to be nuts and you’re having trouble concealing your reactions . . . that’s tough. Is there a way you could constructively express your point of view? Or is your point of view unwanted? If your point of view is unwanted, do you have to attend these meetings at all? And if you do, can you sit in the back row or the corner where your reactions won’t be front-and-center?

    1. jmkenrick

      You bring up an interesting point. I think that bored is definitely a BAD facial expression to communicate. However, while you should control your emotions, I know a lot of people who’ve managed to climb the ladder but occasionally show irritation, frustration or confusion in meetings.

      People don’t like when their coworkers express frustration (it’s awkward and uncomfortable) but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always bad. Sometimes you’re genuinely frustrated, and with good reason. Maybe at a certain point it’s useful to just own it: “If I look frustrated right now, it’s because after our meeting on Thursday, I was under the impression that I would be managing white chocolate teapot manufacturing, but now you’re telling me we can’t get any white chocolate – am I misunderstanding?”

      One of my favorite coworkers ALSO gets the ” too expressive” feedback in every review…but her willingness to let her boss know when she’s upset has actually benefited her. The fact is, if she was as complacent with her expressions as they seem to want her to be, I think it would have been easier for them to put her needs out of their mind. I honestly think I could benefit from being MORE expressive and being MORE comfortable with letting other people be uncomfortable.

      That said, there is the major caveat that this only applies if you’re not freaking out over every minor inconvenience.

      1. Well

        This is something I used to be bad at when I started my career, but have gotten good at, largely through practice. I’m the kind of person who has tons of ‘tells’ – I’m generally a pretty expressive guy, I’ve got pale skin so I’ll flush obviously, my voice would get shaky when I wasn’t sure about something, etc. Some stuff that’s worked for me:

        1) Practice being aware of the content of a conversation while also being aware of your response to it. This is easiest to start doing in meetings (when the attention isn’t exclusively on you). The better you get at this, the easier it becomes to course-correct. Next time you’re sitting in a meeting where the focus isn’t on you, take a few seconds every couple of minutes to ask yourself “How is this making me feel? How am I communicating that to others?” and adjust as appropriate. Eventually it’ll become second nature.

        2) Similarly, as other people have suggested, start practicing the kind of body language and expressions you’d LIKE to be your default ones. With enough practice, it becomes your default. A slow nod, periodic “mhmm”, etc. will often serve you well.

        3) Do postmortems – with yourself, and if you have trusted mentors/peers/etc, with them – after tough conversations. Don’t beat yourself up about your shortcomings, but it might help you to pinpoint ‘triggers’ that cause you to react in certain ways – do you roll your eyes when someone questions your judgment? Do you snap without thinking when someone makes a relatively harmless joke at your expense? Spend a minute or two about how you’d like to reply next time.

        5) When necessary – in the moment – clarify what you’re feeling, with words. Be honest and constructive about it, but say it! This will help keep people from drawing their own conclusions. Say things like “Hey, sorry if I seem impatient about this – I’m just anxious to get underway. How do you think we can we address the holdup from our teapot supplier?” or “Wow, I’m surprised by that. I thought we had addressed the revenue numbers last call.” Etc. When you label your own emotions, you sort of preemptively stop other people from labeling them for you. (Not to say that someone incredibly rude might not say “you weren’t surprised, you were angry!” but it’ll at least short-circuit some people.)

        In general I’d recommend the book “Crucial Conversations”. It focuses on conversations where the stakes are high, but has lots of tips about how to keep from responding “in the moment” in general, which will be relevant here.

  23. Lily in NYC

    I am terrible at this. I once got in trouble for “rolling my eyes” at a boss when in reality I was rolling my eyes at myself in a meeting when I realized I was reading something incorrectly. It was a learning experience about how people perceive things. The only thing that works for me is to pretend I am royalty and try to look stoic.

    1. Kai

      Ugh, yes. I got called out by a professor in college for rolling my eyes at something he’d said. Which was true, I did, but I had no idea that my reactions were so obvious. It’s still embarrassing to think about.

    2. geekchick603

      Some people just have a ‘thing’ about eye rolling. Our teenagers roll their eyes all the time. I’m oblivious, but it sends my husband over the edge.

      I’m sure there are people who have a ‘thing’ about other facial expressions, too.

    3. Not So NewReader

      I had a coworker that rolled her eyes at everything that was said. I wanted to ask if she needed to see a doctor, because she made the gesture so frequently. (We are talking dozens of times in one shift.)
      I did some reading on it and apparently eye-rolls are a part of typical work place bully behavior. Come to find out, my coworker did other behaviors on the list, also.
      If she had not habitually rolled her eyes, I never would have learn all this stuff.

      I used to roll my eyes once in a great while, now I try to avoid it all the time. It just does not fly well at all in the work place and it does tend to discredit the one doing it. People do pick up on eye rolling and they notice it much quicker than one would think.

    4. PoorDecisions101

      I had this happen to me recently and think it may be part of the reason why I’ve been benched at work.

      Thing is, I wasn’t actually rolling my eyes – I was looking up to recall something while our new director was firing off a tonne of questions.

      Anyone who makes decisions based on this is just petty and not someone I’d want to work for.

  24. ElizParkCoop

    I agree with the person who mentioned that used what they learned during theater… I used to have the same issue as the issue posted. I now, for the more difficult conversations, put myself in a “movie” mode. I remove myself personally/emotionally from the issue and can deal with the topic with objectivity and a very little show of emotion. It diffuses any potentially emotional responses from the other side and takes away any ammunition they could possibly bring up later as leverage in future dealings. It absolutely works and you feel more in control of the conversations.

    All the advice listed is great though so whatever brings you a sense of calm and objectivity -try that.

    1. ali

      yep, my theatre background has worked well for me in these situations too. If I know I’m going to have a particularly stressful meeting, I try to tell myself that I’m just playing a character and my character has different mannerisms than I do, which hides my personal reactions.

  25. Bend & Snap

    The best I ever got is “pretend you’re made of stone.” I use it when I’m getting upset but need to have a poker face/voice.

    The flip side is that when the other party is heated they tend to get PISSED that I’m not reacting at the same level they are and that’s not a good thing. So it can backfire.

    1. Xarcady

      Yes, I’ve had that reaction, too. I grew up with six brothers who were allowed to bully me–I learned to show no fear, no nothing.

      At a job with an office bully, I was confronted in a meeting by the bully, for something that I had nothing to do with. My absolutely blank face and the fact that I said nothing for a very long pause, drove the bully into a screaming fit. (I was so shocked by the accusation, I couldn’t think of anything to say.)

      I got promoted because I “stood up” to the bully. What was really going on was that I was afraid I was about to be fired, for angering the bully so much–by doing nothing.

      1. A Non

        Being picked on during childhood (by peers or authority figures) seems to be one of the more effective ways of developing a poker face, unfortunately. I don’t recommend it.

        I’m glad your workplace supported you! I sympathize entirely with your feelings, I’m effing terrified any time it looks like a bully is coming after me. Doesn’t mean I can’t deal with it, just that it is Not Fun.

    2. alma

      Back when I was a waitress, I LOVED trolling angry jerk customers with extreme politeness. They just didn’t know what to do with themselves at a certain point.

      1. OhNo

        Extreme politeness is a great default to fall back on. I’ve actually been practicing my “politely interested” tone more lately — it comes in handy so much when you’re working in customer service!

        1. Cath in Canada

          Extreme politeness with a British accent works even better! My usual accent is now a hodgepodge mongrel Yorkshire-Geordie-Scottish-Canadian hybrid that a lot of people hear as Irish, but I can still bring out the ol’ BBC RP when required.

      2. OriginalEmma

        The best advice I got was from a long-time flight attendant. Her trick was to escalate politeness when customers become angry and irritable. In her experience, people slowly became aware of their jerkface behavior and adopted a calm ashamedness in the face of her unflappable civility.

      3. BeckyDaTechie

        I do this too. Kyra Sedgewick’s character from The Closer, Brenda Leigh Johnson is my go-to personality for it. What are they going to do, try to have me fired for being “too nice”?

    3. Florida

      I had this problem. I worked in a very toxic environment. I would be listening to my boss and the top boss, and instead of rolling my eyes, I would just sit there. I didn’t want to nod my head in agreement because I didn’t agree. So I sat and listened. Occasionally, I would say, “I’m listening. Go on.” You are right about them getting seriously pissed because I wasn’t reacting strongly enough. In fact, I wasn’t reacting at all. That situation did not end well for me.

      Now what I do is, and this is going to sound super crazy, I wiggle my toes. If I’m in a situation where I find myself getting frustrated at an idiot, I wiggle my toes. It make you aware of your whole body, and it is a little bit calming. As I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it helps. You might still be surrounded by idiots, but at least you are more calm about it.

  26. Adam

    Have you tried playing actual poker? Only slightly kidding.

    Appearing unflappable comes pretty naturally to me so I’m hard pressed to explain how to be better at it. But I think one thing that will help is for you to know your audience. When you’re at work and you are dealing with bosses and colleagues who aren’t in your social strata but are required to interact with perhaps you can think of “putting your game face on” when you go into meetings with them. You are focused and here to work and it’s been determined that being successful in your job means keeping some of your personal thoughts under wraps. Remember to breathe. Focusing on your breathing keeps you in the moment, and can help you get from A to Z without diverging long enough to let a wayward expression slip.

    But I do have to echo the sentiments above that if this is that serious an issue you may want to reconsider if this particular work environment is the right one for you.

    1. Windchime

      Ha, that’s a funny thought, that someone might have to actually pull out a deck of cards and start dealing a poker hand when the boss starts saying stupid stuff. I actually kind of like that idea.

  27. patricia

    I fortunately don’t have to deal with this now but in the past I had a boss who was kind of crazily defensive and over-analyzed everything. She’d often ask me (aggressively) to explain my facial expressions before I was even aware of what I was feeling. I found when I relaxed my jaw and raise my eyebrows slightly (very slightly, otherwise she’d say “oh does that SURPRISE YOU?”) during our conversations I was inscrutable, it relaxed my entire face. It became second nature, I no longer work for her but I’m still very good at being impassive.

  28. april ludgate

    I’ve always been naturally good at keeping a blank face, it drove my parents insane when I was younger because they’d be getting so mad at something I did and I’d just stare at them. This works for me about 90% of the time, I can’t always pull it off on days where something else is making me more emotional than usual or if something really throws me for a loop. Here’s some advice that might help. First, try just keeping a certain level of detachment from the conversation. Take in what they’re saying but don’t process it until you’re alone and it doesn’t matter if your feelings show. Think about how the conversation might go beforehand and practice reacting to it until you’ve gone through so many outcomes that almost nothing they say/do will really be a surprise to you. Also, looking completely blank can cause people to think you’re bored, so make sure to keep your body language casual but alert: pick a posture somewhere between slouching and ramrod straight, keep your eyes focused and following the conversation, keep your hands relaxed or take notes, nod when you agree with something and give the slightest head tilt if you don’t (so you’re not outright showing disagreement, but showing that you don’t agree completely either).

    And practice controlling your reaction when you don’t agree with something. Think of talking to relatives who love discussing politics that you don’t agree with, but you have to let it go because you’re grandmother will be really angry if you start arguing with Uncle Bob about gun control over the Christmas ham. Just breathe through the annoyance, know that you can’t agree with everyone, and pick your battles if something isn’t going to affect you directly.

    1. C Average

      Your account of driving your parents insane as a child makes me realize that the limited amount of poker-face ability I have actually WAS developed in childhood. My sister and I used to play this game with each other at the dinner table, where we usually sat across from one another. We’d stare at each other, stone-faced, and let just a tiny amount of drool escape at the corner of our mouth–not enough to actually dribble, just a drop. The object of the game was to remain stoic and to not actually drool. Invariably one of us either drooled or cracked up. Our parents never did figure out what we were doing.

      1. april ludgate

        That’s actually the only time I really have trouble keeping a straight face, when something’s funny or someone’s trying to make me laugh. I can stay stoic through annoying, frustrating, sad, and infuriating things, but I’m a goner if I find something funny. It was a problem when I was working at a daycare because kids can be hilarious when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to and I would have to manage a straight face to get them to stop, then turn around and laugh silently.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I remember trying to do this with an ex’s daughter. She would come out with the most hilarious things and given the tone of the moment, I couldn’t laugh. Or when we were in a store and she’d go, “I’d REALLY like to have this,” (pointing at a toy) and I’d have to very neutrally say, “That would be nice,” when inside I’m busting a gut at her attempt to score a freebie.

      2. TeapotCounsel

        I think we found your solution, OP. Pretend to drool. ;)

        (good story, C Ave – I got a good laugh from that)

    2. AdAgencyChick

      Ooh, this is great advice. I definitely have learned to keep a poker face around my dad (and change the subject as soon as possible) because our politics and religious views are so different. “Imagine that you’re going to discuss religion with your dad” is such a good analogy for me.

  29. Xarcady

    Pretend to be an anthropologist, studying the local tribes. View all their behavior through the lens of someone observing their behavior clinically. And of course, you don’t want your reactions to influence those being observed, so you maintain a lack of facial expression.

    Keep a running commentary in your head:

    *****
    Now the alpha leader goes into boasting mode, listing all the things that would have gone wrong without her oversight.

    Which is challenged by the beta leader, pointing out one tiny aspect of one small part of one small project which she managed quite nicely. Grasping at straws to bring down the alpha isn’t working well for her today.

    Their posturing is challenged by the IT guy, who does not have to worry about status. As an outsider to the group, but essential to their day-to-day work, he has the liberty to cut to the chase and demand that they get to the point, or he will penalize them by leaving the meeting early. The consequence of that is that the start of their new database interface will be delayed by at least a week.

    The admin assistant has once again made a subtle display of his unhappiness by making the coffee too weak, and providing bagels when he knows that Alpha, despite her claims to be on a diet, really wants doughnuts, so she can claim that she was “forced” to cheat on her diet because there was a platter of doughnuts in her face the entire meeting.

    The remainder of the tribe has resorted to checking Facebook under the table in an attempt to not be drawn in to the power struggle.

    *****
    This technique is also useful for dinners with extended family.

      1. OhNo

        I can’t help but imagine it in David Attenborough’s voice. “Watch, as the chief lioness stalks her prey…”

    1. Newbie

      Xarcady – Oh…my…goodness…I LOVE this. I just laughed out loud at this internal dialog sample…I don’t know now how I am going to keep my usually very stoic face from not cracking and smiling in our next staff meeting – because I know this is going to be running through my head now – I work with these people you describe. Too funny!!

    2. OP

      I already think of myself as an anthropologist in a (very) strange country so all I have to do now is add narration and soundtrack! Thank you for this – excellent suggestion for meeting combat, and particularly useful for my situation, where ‘too’ neutral or expressionless an face is taken to mean agreement or acquiescence, or worse yet, You-Are-The-High-Lord/Lady-of-Absolute-Rightness.

  30. Serin

    Every now and then I think about how awful it would be if people could suddenly read my mind. Usually when what’s in my mind is [singsong] “You’re wasting my TI-ime …”

    Study Is Hard Work, a book for students, has a lot of advice about how to handle lectures that seem boring — something similar might help in meetings. I remember one suggestion was to come in with questions and pay close attention to see if you got answers; another was to try to predict what the speaker would cover and pay attention to see if you were right.

    If you do something like that, you’ll look like a person who’s paying close attention — because you will be.

    (If all else fails, I suppose you could work up Bingo card. “Proactive … team-building … synergy … I win!”)

  31. matcha123

    When I was younger, I took gymnastics and one of the things the teachers would drill into us was that we had to see ourselves completing the action before we started it. I try to apply that to various aspects of my life. I imagine what someone might say and how I should react to that and I run that through my head.

    Reading people is not as hard as it’s generally thought to be. You can practice on yourself; when you are angry, do you tend to jiggle your leg? Do you fiddle with your hair when someone asks you a difficult question? Little things like this convey your actions to someone that’s watching you.
    Turn this back on them. Observe their facial expressions. Do they fiddle with their pens before delivering harsh criticism? etc.

    If you want to have a poker face, I would think up the type of meeting you expect it to be and run it through your head a number of times with various answers and reactions to situations.
    What’s more, don’t be afraid to pause before you speak, take a deep breath and then answer. There’s no need to rush into an answer.

  32. arkangel

    I’ve actually become pretty good at that after 10+ years in retail. I used to practice saying things like “It’s over there sir/ma’am” so I could answer without conveying any attitude that could get me in trouble. I taught myself to respond and then go elsewhere to react later. It’s come in handy.

    Sometimes it’s worth having that WTF expression though, like during that one bathroom encounter I had.

    1. Us, Too

      I read this as “I’ve actually become pretty good at that after 10+ years in jail.” Oops!

  33. KT

    I pretend to be someone in a TV show. Like Claire Underwood (hopefully not so soulless, but she’s got the cold poker face DOWN). By emulating such poise and composure, it helps me detach from the emotion and immediate reactions and helps me keep completlye cool and calm.

    I’m a hotheaded, emotional person, yet in my reviews I’m often commended for my composure and professionalism in even heated situations, which is due to me acting like a TV character, seriously.

  34. Mallorie, the recruiter

    Something that I think would help is to work to improve your overall self-esteem. I have several groups that I work with that will “pounce” if they feel like there is a weakness in order to try to get their way and they are definitely hoping for a reaction out of you. I have a lot of confidence, and I find that its easy for me to shut this kind of thing down before it even gets going. I think this ties in because I feel like this is also the kind of thing you can see on a persons face – if I walked into meetings with a hint of terror, they would be all over me. I tend to smile, look people right in the eye, and respond extremely calmly — it can be very disarming to people who are trying to suck you into something. It generally gets them to shut up almost immediately. People like that tend to hope you will be too nervous or scared to respond, smiles and eye contact shows them you are not threatened by them, in my opinion. As a plus, you end up looking friendly and easy to work with and they end up looking difficult and unpleasant.

    1. Mike C.

      I’m really liking this advice. I keep trying to put myself in the OP’s shoes and I keep coming back to, “WTF do you mean they ‘pounce’ on me? If they don’t like the look on my face they can get pushed out an airlock.”

  35. kd

    I lived through four years of monthly Project Planning meetings with 3 different business groups present. They all hated each other and would get in digs and finger pointing whenever possible. Very high school mean person stuff. Not productive at all, but since the majority of the problems were at director level, it continued unchecked.

    After the first couple of times witnessing this, I would get an anxiety attack before each meeting and sit there, heart pounding, waiting for the ** to hit the fan. Sometimes it was directed at me. I knew I had to get this under control to be able to do at the very least, my job.
    What I developed for me to live through this was first – be beyond prepared. After a few meetings I could tell who was paying attention, reading updates, doing what they were supposed to do and who was not. (guess what – the finger pointers and big talkers were not) I made sure I read everything, I researched on the web, so I knew what other people should be doing. I educated myself on the entire project, not just my part.
    Then came the the ability to disconnect emotionally. It was hard, but I wrote a mantra for myself and repeated it my head in these meetings.
    Next I practiced a slight bland, but interested smile on my face – not stone poker and not smirking. I practiced in the mirror. I then used it in every meeting.
    At first it was really hard to concentrate on my expressions, pay attention and take notes. I didn’t jump in with answers, I let the big talkers go first. After they were all blown out, then I would come in with my comments – slowly and calmly.
    It was really hard for me, for I am very expressive facially. It was a lot of work to just keep this demeanor, but it became easier and easier.
    You can do it but it will take time and practice.

  36. HigherEdManager

    Perhaps this is a little too simple, but it works for me. I have a mantra that I say over and over again when things happen that I know I don’t want to show my cards over. “Be non-reactive. Be non-reactive. Be non-reactive.”

    It gets me through.

    1. MaryMary

      That’s what I do. “Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.” Or cry. Or clearly show that I think whoever is speaking is full of bullcrap. Whatever the case may be.

  37. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

    Practice definitely helps when trying to achieve a neutral expression. I also go with the biting my cheek and pretending to sneeze (then looking down and rubbing my nose) when I’m trying not to laugh. Honestly, I’m sure those aren’t very convincing covers, but they’ve work well enough for me in the past.

  38. edj3

    I used the following in very contentious meetings with vendors who were well known for button punching:

    1. Lean back into my chair, with my arms either at my side or on the chair’s armrest–never crossed, and not on the table or desk in front of me. The point is to keep my body language open.

    2. Keep my eyebrows in a neutral position–no elevator eyebrows, no scowl of death and doom, just nice neutral eyebrows.

    3. Voice volume is also moderate, not loud, not soft but Baby Bear just right. That’s especially helpful if the other participants get heated. They will need to quiet down a bit to hear you.

    And this one is silly but I’ll mention it anyway. I was getting my butt handed to me in a meeting, really quite brutal and could feel I was getting worked up myself. I have cats at home (yes this is part of the story) and cats will purr when they’re either near a friend or need a friend. I have no idea why this popped into my head but I kept thinking as the other person endlessly harangued me “I’m purring, I’m purring.” And it worked for me. So there you go, maybe you can purr on the inside.

    1. Xarcady

      In my retail job, when I’m having to deal with crazy customers, co-workers have commented on how calm I seem, and how helpful, what a pleasant expression I have on my face, etc.

      What no one knows is that in my head I’m re-enacting the shower scene from Psycho, complete with soundtrack, with the customer as the victim.

      It’s the opposite approach to your purring, but it gets me through.

      1. Marina

        Bizarrely enough, it works. You don’t want to get too soft, but aim for one volume notch down from where they are. Leaning in slightly helps too.

        It also works with preschoolers. ;)

        1. edj3

          Ha! Yes, I used to teach music K through 9th grade and used this a lot with the kids in my classes.

    2. Elizabeth

      I use #3 a lot. Every time the person jacks the volume or tempo of their speech, I soften & slow down. As odd as it sounds, it really does work. In order to hear me, they have to stop talking.

  39. EarlGrey

    I would ask yourself, “what’s the problem I’m trying to solve / outcome I’m trying to avoid by getting better at Poker Face?” Is it that you get dragged into arguments? Is it that you end up looking like a lousy employee? Is it that you feel hurt & bullied after these meetings? Is it that meetings get off track and unproductive?

    If you can’t “fix” your face, is there something else you can do to solve the problem? Or, if you can’t “fix” your face, do you think you’re just going to be unhappy and get yelled at by awful coworkers?

    Not that developing a good poker face isn’t a valuable skill to have, but I’m thinking “assume it never happens and ‘expressive’ is just who you are. Now what?”

    1. CHL

      Agree with this about figuring out what’s the problem I’m trying to solve but want to add on that your expressions and body language are a tool at your disposal just like any of your other skills and knowledge. You can use them to your benefit to gain trust, build relationships and influence others behavior, and develop them like any other skill if you want those outcomes. I always liked the chapter in Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” about an “Excessive Need to Be Me.” If being expressive is really really important to you, keep doing it, but if you think it would be helpful to sometimes delay your expressiveness, don’t feel like you’re betraying yourself.

  40. Rocket Scientist

    Practice, practice, practice.

    Get a friend to role-play with you. Have them read you dramatic headlines and make strong, offensive statements while you try to stay neutral .

    Come up with a canned statement that buys you time to process something shocking, like “It sounds like we need to look into this more?” or “That sounds like it is worth discussing further.”

    GL!

  41. RubyJackson

    I once worked on a commercial where the little girl in the scene had to bite into a star fruit. It was extremely sour, and she tried so hard not to make a sour face, it was funny, but the shot was unusable. So, the director instructed her for the next time, the more sour it is, the bigger I want you to smile. So, OP, the more sour or bitter the situation is, the bigger you should smile. Or, at least remember to check the muscles in your face, realize what they are doing. Literally, try to picture what you would look like in the mirror. Is your mouth frowning, are your eyebrows up in surprise or doubt? Feel it, then change it.

    Good luck!

  42. lindsay

    If looking into someone’s eyes is too much and may cause you to react, look at the bridge of their nose/space in between their eyeballs. It looks like you’re keeping eye contact, but you don’t actually have to look at their eyes. Learned that one in high school to keep from crying when my parents yelled at me.

  43. The Wall Of Creativity

    Learn from poker players. If their face gives them away, they wear sunglasses. But obviously that would look silly in the office. HAve you tried wearing one of those V For Vendetta masks?

  44. Tasha

    1. Literally biting my tongue on its side (not the tip) stops me from feeling like I want to cry. And taking a deep breath.
    2. If eye-rolling is one of your tells, just learn to look down when you feel the urge.
    3. When someone says something to push your buttons or get a reaction, it’s ok to pause for a few moments before answering, if that helps. Ditto with the deep breath here before replying.
    4. In meetings, take notes, or pretend to, so you can look down and the pouncers can’t observe your facial language.

  45. DarjeelingAtNoon

    There have been some really great suggestions. One thing that I would add is that it sounds like these coworkers are set for battle and are grasping at straws if facial expressions are the target. Congratulate yourself that your professionalism has them searching for reasons to pounce.

    As to techniques, one of my professors in a trauma therapy class suggested watching scary movies and practicing the poker face. You can keep a hand mirror ready to judge if you think that the expression hits the mark, since you want something neutral and not a “resting bitch face”. Slowing breathing is classic, as someone has mentioned, breath deep to the point your belly expands to avoid hyperventilating. Also constricting all your muscles and holding before releasing helps to bring relaxation. Just practice this before meetings so you walk in relaxed or just in areas not seen like maybe your legs under the table. Another classic tactic is to imagine a picture of your ultimate safe place, real or imagined, you can conjure the safe place image when coworker’s veins bulge.

    1. Nashira

      I have, no joke, a mental pillow fort. It gets more elaborate the more stressed out I am. It’s harder to get upset when you’re chilling out in a fort, while your guard-penguin pours tea.

      1. Batshua

        Can you teach me how to build a mental pillow fort?

        (Seriously, visualization and such are not my strongest skills.)

        1. Tepid Tea Water

          Some of this depends on how you think.

          For example in the green lantern comics it is explained that each of the characters has a different style. One person is an artist so their mental constructs are artistically made. Another needs to understand how something functions so if he creates something mechanical he knows how all the gears are working inside.

          I remember reading about somebody who was stuck in prison and to pass the time mentally built an exact duplicate of the prison brick by brick. He would think about the mud from the ground and what it would take to shape it into a brick. He would carry the brick to the right spot, put it down and level it.
          Of course now that I’m mentioning it I can’t find references for either (argh!)

          But if you are trying to build a pillow for imagine what you want.
          Simple comfort, imagine 3 pillows from a big couch. Stand two up straight and place the third on top. Sit yourself inside in a position you feel comfortable.
          Need something bigger? Imagine the couch against a wall and the three pillows are creating a high ceiling for your fort.

          Personally, the visualisations help me with general feelings. So the first example would be a feeling of secure on all sides and queen of my own demain.

  46. channeling David

    David Rakoff from This American Life suggested this one. Hold one hand in the other. Write with a finger on your opposite palm: “I hate you” over and over. Your expression will become sunnier and calmer.

    1. C Average

      Last year I asked this community for advice on looking cheerful and engaged during a team-building exercise and someone recommended writing “Smile Fucking Smile” on my palm and glancing at it as needed. This was such a successful strategy that I now just write “SFS” on my palm and it does the trick.

      1. Jeanne

        If I’m taking notes and want to write something awful, I write each letter on top of the others. By the time I write a word or two, it just looks like an ink blot. I have also used writing on my hand.

  47. KAZ2Y5

    Alison, when I tried to look at this page on my phone it automatically downloaded something. I have a Samsung 5 and was going through my Facebook page with the Pale Moon browser. I can’t figure out what it is, but the file name shows up as OR9Xy8LQeF_100367888 dot html (I don’t want to open it to see what it is!) on my activity screen (or whatever it is called) on my phone.

  48. Isabella Maria Lucia Elizabetta

    Remember it’s not personal. Even when I’m personally invested in a project/cause, I find it easier to compartmentalize my facial expressions when I remind myself that this is business and only business. The decisions my company makes are business decisions, and have nothing to do with my perception of myself and my “value” at the office – even when I advocated against whatever the final decision was. When I’m able to take that mental step back, I’m able to attack situations more objectively and my colleagues seem to value my input more. Now, there is a line between appearing objective and robot, so I do express disagreement and concern, but only through the perspective of a passion for achieving the business’s goals, not my personal opinions.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments when I want to fly off the handle or run and hide in the bathroom for 20 minutes – because I have those moments. But the point is, those weak moments need to stay private. If I’m in a situation when I know I’m becoming emotional (something which is NOT ok in my office environment), I’ll flat out acknowledge it and say “Galavant, I didn’t know you felt so strongly against my approach to building Chocolate Teapots. I’m going to need to take a look at my process to build in your feedback. Let’s regroup in 20 minutes, a day, week, etc…”

    When you walk down the hall, your presence and how others perceive you can matter depending upon your work environment. My goal at the office is to portray confidence. This isn’t to say that you need to practice your supermodel strut to walk down the hall but your appearance and demeanor do impact how others view you. If you look scared to say “boo” as you refill your coffee, that perception will follow you into the boardroom. If you really aren’t confident, pretend you’re an actor and just go for it. If you’re pissed off over truly ridiculous feedback you just received, remember the person giving you the feedback is probably pretty ridiculous in general, and file it away as an insight on your office culture, not as a personal attack.

  49. LibbyG

    I read this somewhere, a parenting book, I think: press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and make sure your teeth aren’t touching. It’s hard to make any kind of face like that.

  50. Kimmy

    These are all great ideas. However, in my experience the troublemakers are going to “see” the reactions they want to see, whether your face is displaying them or not. Be prepared to nail your poker face and get the accusations anyway.

  51. Hillary Clinton Impersonator

    As someone who suffers from “bitchy resting face” I do have to think about my facial expressions or else I give off a “I’m-going-to-punch-you-vibe”. Since I can’t spend my meetings thinking of unicorns and puppies, I’ve decided just to own it. The people who work with me day-to-day know that’s just my face.

    1. LillianMcGee

      Me tooooo. I actually have a great sense of humor and love to joke around, but judging by my neutral face you’d cross the street when you see me coming. I’ve been working on my Cersei Lannister eyebrow as a fun way to own it. :D

  52. Oblique Fed

    This might sound silly, but one thing that really works for me is pretending. I take a minute before the tough meeting and tell myself a little story about how I’m, say, an international person of mystery and I’m going undercover to get intel and they can’t suspect.

    Once, I was working in a unit where I was very happy. I learned one morning that a re-organization was going to split up our unit and I was going to be moved to another unit where I didn’t know anyone. I was super upset and actually crying in my boss’s office. Half an hour after that announcement, I was scheduled to present in a meeting with the person who I had just learned was going to be my new boss. I had never interacted with him before: this was going to be my first impression. I took ten minutes, splashed cold water on my face while taking deep breaths, and thought REALLY HARD about how I was actually Emma Peel going undercover.

    The meeting went very well, my boss told me afterward that she was very proud of how I handled it. Then I went home that night and had margaritas and watched Iron Man until I felt better about things.

    Sometimes you’ve just got to find something that works for you, no matter how silly it might seem.

    1. Tomato Frog

      HA. Yes. I have totally used the pretending-I’m-a-top-secret-agent method of emotion control.

  53. Us, Too

    In my experience, this takes practice and experimentation.

    A few things that have generally work for me:
    1. I reconcile/remind myself that I have a very political job and my ability to control my outward reaction is a huge predictor of my success and is actually a huge part of my job.
    2. When I know that I’m about to go into a controversial discussion, I give myself a pep talk a few minutes before the meeting, reiterating #1.
    3. I imagine the worst thing someone could say or do and practice my reaction to it – odds are good if I can manage THAT reaction, I can manage about anything.
    4. I imagine and practice my response to what I think the most LIKELY things to be said or done would be. Again, practice allows me to execute in real time when my emotions may be higher.
    5. I ALWAYS bring a cup of coffee/tea or a soft drink to discussions that might get heated. If someone says triggering, I immediately take a sip. This distracts me for just a moment mentally, keeps my mouth occupied so I don’t say something stupid in the heat of the moment, and is a plausible reason to partially obscure my face and look away for a moment to give me an instant to recover my composure and prepare my next statement.

    In addition to the above, I have a couple techniques I have to go to a mental “Happy Place” when I feel myself starting to get too emotionally embroiled in whatever is going on to be productive. These are last resorts for me because I can’t do them and continue to listen effectively much less speak so I use them only when my brain is in some sort of emotional death spiral and I need some immediate type of “reboot”. This took me a lot of practice/experimentation to figure out and these are embarrassing to share because they are so juvenile, but maybe they will help OP figure out what works for her/him. Each of the below takes only a second or two, but usually is so “out there” that it gets my brain away from its previous unproductive line of thinking. :)
    1. I think to myself “No Talent A** Clown” (from the movie Office Space).
    2. I think to myself “Isn’t that Special” (in the SNL Church Lady voice).
    3. I think to myself “I am the King of the Idiots!” (In a grand, bombastic voice).
    4. I think about this crazy cartoon image of a grizzly bear, with sharks with lasers and unicorns and stuff on it.

    1. Us, Too

      Oh, one other thing and this really is something I do only very rarely. I haven’t had to do this in years, but in the absolute worst case scenario in which I am pretty sure I am going to do something crazy that I’ll regret… I leave. Literally I step out of the room, perhaps faking a coughing attack, then go to the restroom or the kitchen for a moment to reset. I return as soon as possible with a glass of water or something to provide additional “fodder” for my cover story.

      1. LizB

        Another good excuse if you really, really have to leave: your contact lens has suddenly started acting up, and you need to excuse yourself to the bathroom for a moment so you can get it back in place. (This can also be a cover story if you’re tearing up and need to take a minute to calm down — out-of-place contacts will often make your eyes water.)

    2. LillianMcGee

      +1 to the happy place idea. When I need to chill, I think of my place in as much detail as possible… the smell of the incense, the sound of the bamboo fountain, the feel of the tatami mats, the coolness of the water in the tsukubai… (it’s a Japanese tea room! Best happy place ever!)

    3. TeapotCounsel

      +1 to cup of coffee. I ALWAYS have a cup before I go to meetings. Makes for great crutch and distractor from my facial expressions.

  54. HR Generalist

    Carry a notepad everywhere and keep your head down. I conduct lots of interviews and taking notes often means candidates don’t see my “WTF?!” face.

    Other than that, play dumb. If they say, “You look upset” respond lightly with, “Oh no, I get that a lot – it’s just how I look. Please, continue.”

  55. Wanna-Alp

    Sympathies, OP. Not a nice position to be in. I used to regularly get verbally jabbed by a co-worker on the same team, at the regular team meetings. I reckoned that it didn’t help to react, so I used several different strategies.

    1. Being mentally prepared that it might happen. Having advance warning seemed to work better than being blindsided.

    2. Make a “Cool” playlist of music to help me keep my cool (e.g. “Cool” from West Side Story) and play that through my earbuds to myself several minutes in advance of the meeting.

    3. Another (good for staving off tears) is to dig my nails into the palm of my hand, or some other pain stimulus.

    Today’s strategy is to repeat to myself on endless loop “One more day, he’s leaving tomorrow; one more day, he’s leaving tomorrow…”

  56. Dweali

    Tag on to this question but how do you keep your face from going red when you get angry…my poker face is pretty decent (thank you retail experience)…at least, until I get angry then it goes all red

    1. HR Generalist

      I get the redness too. Mostly from embarrassment or sometimes sadness, haven’t found a solution yet other than self-talk but usually it happens so quickly it’s too late.

    2. Not So NewReader

      I used to be a terrible blusher. It’s gone down over the years. One thing that helped a little bit, was to say “this does NOT hurt me, I am okay here” over and over in my head. I would say this even if it did hurt me, because I absolutely had to get through the situation. I could deal with the pain later when I was alone. What was surprising to me is that in a quieter moment, I would try to figure out how something hurt me and why did I have a strong negative reaction. Sometimes, I would come up empty- this made me realize the reaction was unnecessary. I found the core problem to be that I just did not trust the boss/coworker and I knew whatever they were telling me was going to be a big hassle before it was over. I had worked through the hassle and the situation was over.
      It depends on the cause of the blushing, though. If I did something stupid, I found the faster I apologized and took steps to fix the problem (if fixing was needed) then the sooner I stopped blushing. Over time, I got to the point where I could just skip the blushing part and go to the apologizing/fixing part. It felt like I had trained my brain to be confident that I would follow up on whatever was wrong.

      It’s one thing to control your emotions and it’s another thing to fix/heal your emotions.

      Going back to the example of not trusting the boss/coworker and expecting a hassle, I found a workable thought: I CAN trust ME to handle hassles and that is everything I need to know right there. When I brought my own commitment to the foreground, I was able to get less angry and, in turn, I blushed less.
      Yes, OP, what people have said here will be very helpful. You can go one step further. Look for common threads or repeat emotions. Figure out why they are happening and see if there is something you can do about it. I found that if I rushed in the door one minute before I was due into work, I would get flustered easily for the first part of the morning. It was the rushing that did me in. The solution was to arrive a bit earlier. The point of this example is not everything has some deep, hidden solution. You can do little things to help yourself.

    3. BeckyDaTechie

      Small sips of air through the nose waaaay down deep into the solar plexus. If you do yoga etc., you want a full yoga breath all the way down to the sacrum, but done through the nose with a closed mouth. It’s not great for moving energy, but it’s good for dissipating/controlling it.

  57. Winston

    What kind of faces are we talking about here? I can see if you’re groaning and rolling your eyes then you have to rein that in. But you can’t be constantly on guard to keep your expression neutral. If you disagree with someone they can’t find anything to object to in your actual words then I think you’re doing pretty well.

    If you’re not giving off serious indications of hostility and someone accuses you of negative body language or making a face, I’d just quickly brush it off as just pausing to think or say you weren’t aware of doing it and didn’t mean anything by it. If they want to bog down the conversation in discussing your facial expression then just let them do so and look silly while you politely yet to shift the conversation to more productive topics.

    1. Maxwell Edison

      The problem is when the accusations (which don’t have to be of hostility, but can be of “not being enthusiastic enough”) come from a manager or from mysterious “people” (“Maxwell, ‘people’ have told me that you don’t make enough eye contact, so I’m putting you on a PIP.”).

      1. Us, Too

        I got a variant of “not enthusiastic enough” last year.

        In the middle of last year, with only one exception, my 360 degree feedback was entirely positive when it came to my communication style – everyone enjoyed working with me. The exception was someone who said that, even though I achieved all my goals and they were happy with the progress we were making, my use of hyperbole and humor gave the impression that I didn’t take my work seriously. My initial reaction was defensive rationalization of my approach (“everyone else likes it!”) and I was inclined to dismiss it as B.S. (“that person just has a bad attitude”)

        After a lot of thought, I realized that regardless of how I felt and how everyone else felt, at least one person on my team was telling me that my approach wasn’t working for him. That’s good feedback for me to have, even if I didn’t like it. I figured that this feedback would have come from one of two people. So I adjusted my style in any meeting those two stakeholders attended. I made sure that I made extra eye contact with them and used additional “earnest”/”serious” body language. I retained humor and my original approach in all my other meetings and conversations. And, so far, it does seem to be working. Time will tell, though. :)

    2. Us, Too

      Like it or not, there are very few professional contexts in which mastering your expressions and reactions isn’t going to be a valuable arrow in your quiver of professional skills.

      My actions are the ONLY tool I have to influence someone else’s behavior. If changing my body language, tone, expression, choice of words, etc increases the likelihood of my achieving a desirable outcome, it is short-sighted of me to ignore that, no matter how stupid or annoying or hurtful I feel someone else’s actions are.

      In addition, when someone gives you feedback like this, it gives you additional context about what makes that person tick and how they operate – additional information that you can use to achieve what you want with them.

      I know this sounds very manipulative and conniving or like brown-nosing or whatever, but in the end if you can figure out what to do to get what you want, you’ll go farther personally and professionally and with much less friction.

      1. Not So NewReader

        “I know this sounds very manipulative and conniving or like brown-nosing or whatever, but in the end if you can figure out what to do to get what you want, you’ll go farther personally and professionally and with much less friction.”

        I so agree with everything you have said. And I agree that this can feel manipulative or conniving or brown-nosing. To counter-balance that feeling, I want to toss out the saying of my old boss: No one will ever tell you. But part of what you are being compensated for is your willingness to get along with others.

        And from my own experience, the bosses/coworkers that I had the most confidence in were the ones who kept their cool and stayed focused on the matter at hand. Those were the reliable people. And I brought them some verrry challenging problems. Years later when people brought me their worst of the worst problems, I realized that it was a subtle compliment. They trusted me not to blow up, not to become emotional and to help them look for solutions.

  58. Annamaison

    Wear a scarf or a turtleneck. Strong emotions can make your neck or chest flush.
    Keep your hands on the table – and keep them still.
    Try not to fidget with jewelry, or writing instruments.
    Don’t doodle.
    Breathe from the belly.
    When things get dodgy (and I’m not the one speaking) I sometimes revert to reciting the multiplication table in my head, or conjugating French verbs. Hopefully I never blurt out “42!!” or “Avoir!” in a moment of stress.

  59. Cubicle Joe

    I struggle with teeth grinding when I sleep. I’m the same fellow who posted in open forum last Friday about being called “f*ggot” and “r*tard” at work, and then being placed on a disciplinary action when I calmly and non-threateningly complained about it. No wonder I grind my teeth.

    Anyway, my jaw is a bit out of alignment, and it gives the appearance that I’m smirking, when in reality I’m being sincere. I’ve also been told that I have “resting grumpy face”.

    I’ve found that placing my tongue behind my teeth helps to relax my facial muscles, and gives a neutral expression. Deep breathing also helps.

    As an earlier poster said, some people will always feel the need to pick fights and taunt you. When I realize that I need to discuss a project with them, I relax my face, and remind myself to give no reaction when they pounce on me. I just quietly pause for a few seconds, and calmly look at them while saying nothing. When they see that I don’t take the bait, then they stand down and deal with me on a professional level.

  60. Not Today Satan

    I used to turn bright red VERY easily if I was nervous or angry. I also got a shaky voice. Then, unfortunately I went through a really awful experience. It’s sort of a cliche, but I emerged stronger, and as relevant to this post, I just sort of lost the ability to give a F about petty fools and what they think of me. I had to work with and for some awful people, but when they acted up I just felt like a sort of apathetic contempt for them and kept a stone face. (Sometimes I’ll sneak a “judgmental blink” in there though ;))

    I’m not sure if this applies to you though, since it seems you’re more worried about things like eye rolls. In any case, I think control of your emotions is the best way.

  61. QAT Contractor

    Approach these meetings in a matter-of-fact fashion. If you focus on facts and concrete evidence it can help to keep a straight face, at least for me. If these people doing the pouncing are directly attacking you for something you did or didn’t do, try to take it as their poor attempt at constructive critisism.

    Try responding with something like “I understand you aren’t happy with the way xyz happened, and I will make sure that it is handled differently in the future.” Or “I understand … happened, is there a different way you would like to see it handled in the future?”

    Sticking to facts and learning to leave emotion out of it will help drastically. From how it sounds though, you are in a place that has several people that are all out to make themselves look good by taking others out at the knees then stabbing them in the back. Not fun.

    1. Not So NewReader

      This is interesting, too. Because if you decide just to collect up facts, it is amazing how much emotion people will load in with the facts as they tell you about what you need to know.
      Some of the coolest people I know, solely deal in facts. They seem not to hear any emotion.

      OP, don’t let others who are acting emotionally, draw you into their emotions. Ask yourself, “Jane is upset, do I actually need to be upset, also, or is she drawing me in?”

  62. RVA Cat

    Maybe think of it more as a “game face”…? I agree that these combative co-workers are the problem. Think of the “pounce” as just an attempt to rattle you (as it probably is) rather than a personal attack – like the fans who shout when an opposing player is at bat or shooting a free throw. Some of this may be gendered in that guys may be more used to dealing with “trash talk” and see it in that context.

    (Of course if they’re really being a-holes, imagine they’re showing a “game face” in the Buffyverse sense or “voguing” a la Grimm – showing their monster selves as they lose control. Because that’s what they’re doing, not you.)

  63. Neen

    Check your blinkers! I learned in a social psych class that blinking is one of the biggest (yet smallest) ways we communicate nonverbally, and it’s so true. We blink when we don’t believe something, don’t understand, don’t agree, don’t like something, etc. My boss has a my-way-or-else mentality, and when I voice an opinion contrary to hers, she starts blinking like crazy. My fiance, too, blinks when I nag him for wearing shoes around the house. The flutters always give emotions away.

    The next time you’re face-to-face with someone–standing in the hallway, at lunch, wherever–practice keeping your eyes steady during conversation. Don’t stare. Just be extra aware of your eyes when that person says something that raises a question mark in your mind. In time, you’ll be able to control your blinking–and not hint to anyone what you really think.

  64. Kerry

    I pretend I’ve been hired as an extra in a TV show, and my job is to be in the background being politely interested in whatever the lead actor is saying, but not distract from the shot. Or (if it’s a meeting I’m participating in), that I’m a minor character in a very boring TV show, again whose job is to say their bit and get out of the way of the major actors.

    I don’t know what it is, but somehow ‘acting neutral’ doesn’t always work but ‘literally pretending to be an actor who is being paid to act like they’re neutral’ does, and for some reason, the idea about not ruining the “shot” by having noticeable facial responses especially works for me.

  65. Traveller

    I know that my emotions will be plain to see, so keeping the emotions down matters to me more than hiding them.

    When I went through a particularly rough phase at work, I had a post-it note stuck on the inside back cover of my notebook which said “Its not personal”. I could flip the page discretely any time I needed to see that. Really helped keep my reactions in check.

    1. Maxwell Edison

      Ha! My last few months at the old job, I had a concealed note on my desk that said, “Conceal it, don’t feel it.”

  66. Chris H.

    I’m afraid I’ve only perused the comments made so far, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone. But, I think OP’s issue is not so much how to hide their thoughts, but rather why are they not expressing themselves. It’s important to be able to have a dialogue with a collegue rather than grin and bear it. Be respectful, both with them and with yourself. Be happy with your poker face — it’s letting you know you have an opinion to share.

  67. Mike C.

    What do folks mean by “pounce”?

    Knowing what exactly this means may change my view, but for the most part I feel like we’re all falling into a trap of “How do we once again avoid having difficult or uncomfortable conversations with other people?”

    I mean so what if you have a facial expression in response to external stimuli? You’re a human being, that’s what happens. It sounds like these other coworkers are just acting like bullying assholes who have decided that the Things The OP Does Are Bad and rather than force the OP to change (where they’ll find something else to “pounce on”), perhaps the OP should address this issue head on.

    1. QAT Contractor

      I took “pounce” to mean looking for any sign of weakness and attacking.

      If the OP looks like they are caught off guard by a comment, they immediately continue to pile on that to make it hard for the OP to recover their train of thought, rebuff or simply state their case.

      Throwing someone under the bus suddenly for something that’s never been brought to your attention comes to mind. They are trying to provoke you into acting emotionally and possibly digging yourself a deeper hole in front of higher-up/peers.

      That’s just the way I took it as it’s something I’ve experienced many times before.

    2. Us, Too

      I don’t think that mastering your expressions is mutually exclusive with confronting someone. In fact, I view it as a key prerequisite to doing so productively. No matter how angry, upset, bored, etc I am, if I can’t master my own expressions, I’m unlikely to be able to shape the conversation as productively.

  68. MaryMary

    I don’t have great advice on keeping a straight face other than being conscious of it. I try to catch myself and concentrate on keeping my face neutral.

    I do want to take a minute and make a PSA to be supportive of your cowokers’ poker faces. I have a coworker who is prone to telling ridiculous stories as small talk to clients. It’s bad enough that the stories are ridiculous, but all of us have heard the stories multiple times. I actively concentrate on keeping a pleasant, neutral face when he starts talking about the time he saw a UFO, but several of my other coworkers try to catch my eye, kick me under the table, or egg him on. It is NOT HELPFUL.

  69. Macedon

    It’s definitely difficult to prescribe something without really knowing you, OP, but I guess the nebulous advice would be: try to channel yourself at your most worn and tired, when you’ve pulled a 14-hour shift, and you know you still have four more hours to go.

    As for the requisite anecdote: when I need to blank, I mentally imagine someone taking the last of my Percy Pigs right before my eyes, and the blood just fades from my face, and there goes my will to live. It’s apparently a completely opaque robotic face. I’m not even joking.

  70. 42

    Here’s something I’ve learned: Some expressions (microexpressions) are involuntary and subconscious. They leak information to others as what you’re really thinking/feeling. You don’t know you’re doing them, and you can’t control them.

    Then there are the facial expressions that you are aware of and can control. But even if you’re consciously trying to keep your face neutral, you also have to make sure that your body language isn’t leaking information as well.

    I do think it’s tough to conceal negative or any unwanted emotions.Be bland?? Force a smile?…even these can be giveaways as well. Hmmmm, this is a really good question you’ve asked.

    1. fposte

      Though most people don’t read microexpressions, so I don’t think that’s likely to be what the OP is getting feedback on.

  71. Phil

    Honestly, sometimes it can be as simple as slightly biting your bottom lip to clear up your expression of emotion. Think of it terms of trying to stop a laugh.

  72. A Non

    I pick a favorite fictional character – one I admire, who has all kinds of poise and self control – and pretend I’m them. My favorite is Cordelia Vorkosigan, who has been in the middle of interplanetary power struggles and is really not impressed by your office politicking. She also tends to let it show when she thinks people are being idiots, though, so I have to make sure not to slip into that!

    1. nonegiven

      Cordelia Vorkosigan is my hero. Sometimes I want to dump some guy’s head out of my shopping bag and let it roll across the table.

  73. Marina

    The problem is that your coworkers don’t want to see a “neutral” face. They want to see an actively positive face. You mentioned that your thoughts were not positive or productive… not positive is fine, because hey, sometimes people say idiotic stuff, but if your thoughts aren’t productive then you’re shooting yourself in the foot as well as dealing with these folks attacking you.

    So what works best for me is not hiding my thoughts, but changing my approach. Go into a difficult meeting not thinking “I have to convince these idiots to do the right thing” but “I’m going to listen to these idiots and get a really clear picture of where they’re coming from and what their needs are.” That helps quiet the monologue in your head that ends up showing on your face. And it’s really, REALLY hard for combative people to get combative towards a goal of listening to them… and it’s super funny to watch THEIR faces when they realize they can’t. :D

  74. K.

    Your best “poker face” might not be a blank or neutral one.

    Somewhere around college I landed on what an old friend called my “beatific smile.” She could see my face go into this locked, bemused half-smile whenever someone was annoying the everloving crap out of me. And ever since she described it as beatific, I’ve had in mind medieval saints and their fixed, glassy smiles. And visualizing it helps me maintain it.

    1. RJ

      This is a very good point. I worked for a boss who was clueless about his division’s particular teapot specialty. He was trying to get me to do something that would have undermined the structural integrity of the teapots, because he had no idea about design or balance, or even common sense. Finally, I agreed to his stupid idea, even though I knew it wasn’t structurally sound.

      He became enraged that I was giving him a “blank stare” and began berating me for being so stupid that I couldn’t even understand a simple concept like what we were discussing. I had explained to him why his idea wouldn’t work, then realized he was never going to agree with me, and told him I would go along with his idea. I was so angry at his condescension that I slipped into my blank, neutral facade, which he of course took to mean I was an ‘idiot’. Then again, he’s also a terrible manager with extremely poor social skills, but at the end of the day, the only person I can control is myself, so I have learned that I can’t use the blank facade around him because it sets him off. So, I agree that it is very important to remain mindful of which face you’re using.

  75. HannahS

    When I catch myself frowning and scrunching up my face I immediately raise my eyebrows and tilt my head to make a “yes, I’m considering this novel idea” and then say something like “hm that sounds interesting, tell me more” in a pleasant tone. It suggests that my first reaction was to disagree, but now I’m considering whatever they said. It does seem lessen whatever defensive reaction a person would have to my scrunched up grumpy face.

  76. CAS

    Another suggestion to practice your poker face. The best way to get a grip on it is to practice. You can do that with friends or family members. Tell them you’re working on this skill and that you want to improve it. You can have them make up crazy stories or read you news articles that are highly controversial or opinionated. As they share these stories, tell them to alert you when your facial expressions change. You can also videotape this sort of exercise and play it back so you can see what your facial expressions and how they change.

    Play bluffing games for fun. A game like Balderdash, where you have to fake other players out, can be helpful for building this skill.

    For me, stoicism became crucial when I worked for Horrible Boss. This woman would say or do just about anything to get a reaction out of me. She was such a bully. One day, she called me into her office to scream at me, and I just stood there in front of her desk, staring back at her with a completely blank expression. She got nothing from me — no emotional reaction. She stopped screaming, paused for a few seconds, and then yelled, “Why do you that? Why do you just stand there looking like that? What does it take to get you to react?!” That’s what she wanted — a reaction. The best gift I ever gave myself when I worked for that woman was to never, ever give her the satisfaction. I would stare at the space between her eyebrows sometimes or at the wall behind one of her ears. I would bite the sides of my tongue or press the tip of my tongue against my teeth. Being conscious of my breathing also helped. As hard as she tried, I wouldn’t react.

    Someone upthread suggested withholding judgment about other people’s ideas until they are done speaking. I think that’s an excellent suggestion. By the time they’re finished speaking, your urge to react may have dissipated somewhat. Keeping your head down and taking notes also can help.

    1. RJ

      Once, I worked for an extremely abusive boss as well. Her temper tantrums and screaming abuse were so difficult for me to endure. One day, I wanted to show her her own ugliness. As she was screaming at me, I imagined that I was holding up a mirror for her, reflecting her true colors right back at her. I remained calm and detached.

      She became angrier and angrier. I just stood there. I felt free because I wasn’t absorbing her toxic s**t like I normally did. I was sick of being her punching bag. I was just reflecting it straight back at her. She finally screamed at me to get out of her sight, that I was “deliberately pressing her buttons”.

      I went back to my desk and felt a combination of emotions. On one hand, I felt triumphant that I had shown her exactly how ugly and abusive she really was. On the other, I felt real fear as to how I would be made to pay later. She tried to get me fired, and threatened my job literally every day. I still can’t believe I allowed her to treat me like that.

      I was young and never should have worked for her as long as I did. In hindsight, it wasn’t worth my health or dignity to put up with that. I should have filed a grievance and an EEOC complaint, but I was too cowed from her abuse and scared to speak up. Once I left, she no longer was able to pass my work off as her own, and she quit in lieu of being fired just a few months after that, and shuffled off to some other job across the country. I found out from a mutual acquaintance that she got “laid off” in 2011 and is still looking for work.

  77. HM in Atlanta

    Get with a friend, and ask them to talk to you about something you hate hearing about (or it bores you to tears, but hate is easier). Ask your friend to go into detail about it, engaging you in conversation. Every time you start to slide into a bored/irritated/angry face your friend should call you out on it. This will irk you (especially if they do it using the buzzer from taboo). When they are irritating you by calling you out, you still have to focus on your face/body language.

    To get good and natural at these things, it’s most effective to practice them. It’s hard to practice them when you’re in a stressful situation – where your practice could cause problems, cause you to miss parts of the conversation as you focus on your facial expression, etc. If you don’t remember anything your friend says to you, no harm/no foul. If you need a break, or have a mistake, doing it with your friend is a safe space (no pouncing on you like those crappy coworkers).

  78. Jill

    When I was in high school I read a quote that ” a lady never shows her feelings, she merely raises an eyebrow”. Because what does an expressionless face with just one eyebrow raised say? Is she curious? Is she confused? Is she angry? Amused? A raised eyebrow in and of itself can mean so many feelings….and if that’s the only expression on your face, you’ll keep them all guessing as to what’s really going on in your mind.

    If they say, “You look amused.” or “You look confused,” just give a non-committal “Do I?” and walk away. Or if you can’t walk away smile. Again, you’ll leave them baffled as to what you’re thinking.

    I practiced keeping my face straight and just raising an eyebrow by watching Star Trek episodes featuring Mr. Spock, who if you know your Star Trek, was great at masking his emotions, save for the one raised eyebrow. (God rest Leonard Nemoy!). It’s hard at first, but now it’s totally effortless for me to do that and it works every time I want to keep people guessing about my feelings.

  79. Elizabeth West

    These are all great. I’ll have to save this thread. :)

    I sometimes end up crying when someone makes me really angry, and it frustrates me to no end, which only makes it worse. If I need to keep a straight or pleasant expression, I could just pretend the person is a Dementor trying to suck out my soul and try to think of my happiest memory, and in my head yell, “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

  80. RJ

    I know not everybody is on board with “mindfulness”, but it really does help in maintaining your composure and developing a poker face. Developing a daily meditation practice (or prayer, if you can’t do meditation) helps tremendously in finding that center stillness. I also practiced in front of a mirror, both meditation as well as acting out scenarios that upset me at work so I could monitor my facial expressions. Eckhart Tolle or Pema Chodron are both great resources for more about mindfulness. Yes, you can read Chodron even if you are Christian, just take what you can use and leave the rest.

    I guess I have a flair for the dramatic and apparently when I was younger, I had animated facial expressions that even verged into cartoonish territory. I am a passionate person and very demonstrative, but that is a real disadvantage in the corporate world. Although this made my communications when I was a student in American Sign Language better and richer, it was a huge disadvantage in business, negotiations, and especially during stressful moments. Meditation and mindfulness were both very helpful in learning how to temper my reactions. I would also suggest reading books on body language (Joe Navarro comes to mind) and negotiation/public speaking (In the Line of Fire by Jerry Weissman).

    Part of my other problem is being highly sensitive (see the work of Dr. Elaine Aron or http://hsperson.com/) as well as an empath (see the work of Dr. Judith Orloff, http://www.drjudithorloff.com/). Please note, not all HSPs or empaths will have the same traits as me; however, I learned that by using techniques from Dr. Aron & Dr. Orloff, I was able to better manage my sensitivity and stay centered and calm.

  81. Tongue Biter

    I sometimes literally bite the very tip of my tongue. You will notice that its very difficult to make facial expressions, even if your tongue is just pressed up against the back of your closed teeth. Maybe strange but it works.

  82. Chrissi

    Do you have someone at work that you trust and could sit by or in front of in meetings? I had a coworker tell me once that I needed to watch my facial expressions during trainings (he was right, I would look really annoyed everytime one coworker would talk – for good reason) and then if I was doing it he would just nudge my foot to remind me. It’s really hard to learn to remember to check a behavior that you don’t really realize you’re doing. In my case, I talk too much and sometimes interrupt people, as does my twin sister. Her and her husband came up w/ a system at social events that if she was talking too much, he would nudge her, which just reminded her to take a breath and let others talk. I had to do it by myself which, for a while, meant the only thing on my mind during conversations was “don’t talk too much, give the other person a chance to speak, is what you want to say really important?” over and over and over. Eventually I was able to train myself to stop doing it and could focus on other things, like my conversations, again. You can guess which of us improved on it first (and more easily). I should note that for both of us it was a self-identified problem that we both wanted to correct. Maybe the poker face will be harder to take on since it’s not really you that wants to do it. I’m not capable of a complete poker face, so I tend to just look really interested in whatever anyone else is saying.

  83. Jenn

    I have issues with both bitchy resting face and keeping a poker face when under stress. What helps is to think of something soothing or repeat a mantra, or both. The most relaxing part of my day is when I wake up in the morning and spend about five minutes scratching my cat’s tummy. When I need to relax myself, or at least my eyes/face, I think of him and scratching his tummy. I repeat his name in my head if I need to also. This helps me relax and softens my expression in most cases.

    1. LizNYC

      I suffer from RBF too (resting b*tch face), or at least, I think I do. Really, I’m just not paying any attention to why I’m expressing because I’m lost in thought.

  84. The Other Dawn

    I have no suggestions; however, I like the suggestions I’ve seen here. I don’t have an issue with poker face, but I know people who do. My former boss was terrible at keeping a poker face. She frequently rolled her eyes, pursed her lips, scrunched her face, etc. Everyone in the room knew that she was thinking we’re a bunch of idiots.

  85. Lisa

    I live in Hollywood so this is perhaps not as easy for everyone, but take an improv class. Acting skills are applicable to lots of things that aren’t acting. And improv is fun. If you can play it straight when your partner has taken you into a situation where you’re pantomiming driving an aquatic Ferrari through a feeding frenzy of sharks being controlled by Meryl Streep as a witch, you can chill when your coworker is giving you bad news.

  86. Holly Day

    Good suggestions! I’ve been told I have a bad poker face too, and will definitely be using some of these suggestions. I’ve also found it helpful to have someone trusted I’m often in meetings with to help identify when my face is betraying me, and give me a subtle signal during the meeting or follow up with later to help me identify just when it’s happening so I can better regulate and figure out what my triggers are. I also am sure to have a cup or mug with me in meetings and interviews and frequently take sips so that my face has something to do (sipping) and the mouth of the mug will, at least briefly, cover my expression.

  87. OP

    There is some wonderful advice here – thank you so much for all the tips. I’m really looking forward to sitting down later and reading all in detail.
    Something that complicate things – at least it does for me – working in an academic environment where my colleagues are academics, psychologists and professional educators. No one seems to read a micro-expression better than these people. Also – passive aggression is a big issue. So worst case, there will be no yelling, just dripping condescension and attempts to make people (me and others) feel small.

    Which makes a poker face hard to achieve as I get cranky, even as I recognise that they are just trying to get a reaction.

    1. CAS

      I’m in academia, too. I had a boss briefly who fancied herself to be quite the professional psychologist. She had the credentials, although she’d never practiced professionally with clients and didn’t have a license. Her only work experience was academic. Despite that, she liked to believe she could read people’s minds based on their nonverbal behavior. Often, she’d try to convince us that she knew exactly what we were thinking. It was as annoying as it was frustrating. In reality, she was simply making assumptions and snap judgments, neither of which are hallmarks of professionalism or ethical behavior in the helping professions. It appeared to be a control tactic. It seemed she felt more in control of the situation if she could dictate what everyone else was thinking or feeling. And even when we said, “No, that’s not we’re thinking,” she was arrogant enough to respond, “Are you calling me a liar?” Yes, I suppose so.

      When your colleagues are condescending or patronizing, be like Teflon. They can make their small-minded and rude statements, but you don’t have to absorb it. Work on letting it bounce off you. They treat you rudely because they perceive they have more power or are of higher status than you are. When you react to their rudeness, you give them power and reinforce their perceptions of status. You can’t change them, but you can change you. If you can stop reacting, they may find it a lot less fun when they try to get a rise out of you. When they’re obnoxious, stay on message, keep your face straight, and don’t let them get to you.

    2. BeckyDaTechie

      Can you call them on that, then? You can’t get away from snootiness in academia; you can use a snootier than your default persona to “play act” your way through it.

  88. Not So NewReader

    For people who have to deal with “face readers”, don’t forget if you have to you can remind the “face reader” to ASK you how you feel about a matter, rather than just assuming you are angry/apathetic/bored, etc.

    OP, this may or may not help in your situation. But definitely something to be on the look out for.
    Jane: “I see you are angry, OP.”
    You: “I never said I was angry, Jane. I am concentrating. Please ask me what I feel [think] and try not to assume what I am feeling. I do not mind telling you what I am thinking about in the moment.” (said using an even tone, or if you can, muster a reassuring tone)

  89. GOG11

    I generally have the opposite problem! More frequently than I’d like, one of my coworkers will say something and then wait for me to react because my face remains neutral until I consciously and intentionally make it do something (tone of voice, on the other hand, is another story at times). I am usually focused on my next move (what does this person want/need and how can I accomplish that?) and on what that person is looking for or trying to accomplish (are they looking for empathy, commiseration, assistance, bonding with me?).

    You don’t want to get so stuck in your head that you stop being engaged, but it can pull you out of the moment a bit. Also, splitting your thoughts or thinking more on what to do might keep you from focusing on, and subsequently revealing, what you are feeling or what your opinion is.

    I volunteer as a mediator and we have to be very cognizant of our body language and what it means. Leaning in, nodding, mm-hmm-ing quietly, and asking open ended questions help draw the speaker in and tell their story. Sitting back in your chair, keeping your expression neutral (great tips from other readers on how to do this!), asking close-ended questions and redirecting (I hear you on X, but we really need to focus on Y for the next ten minutes. *insert y-related talking point/question here*) keep the speaker in check and helps them wrap up or transition to a more productive vein of conversation.

    I find that if I have tools and techniques to feel more in control of myself and of the flow of conversation it prevents or minimizes the emotions I’d be working to hide in the first place (as well as being able to keep them from showing if I do happen to have a strong reaction to something).

    Best of luck to you, OP!

    1. GOG11

      I just realized mediation may be an unfamiliar thing for some readers. It’s crucial that we be very intentional about what we communicate – verbally and otherwise – because a mediator’s role is to be a neutral third party. If we don’t maintain neutrally/if we are or appear to be biased, we lose our clients’ confidence in us and in the mediation process. Additionally, in remaining neutral, we are able to facilitate a problem-solving untainted (or at least minimally influenced) by our own personal opinions, motives, values, etc. This allows the clients’ values, skills and abilities, and priorities to shape the agreement/solution and for their goals/interests to determine what success looks like. Since the clients are the ones to implement the agreement/solution (not the mediator), they should be the ones who shape the process and the solution that results from it.

      TL;DR – to be a mediator is to maintain neutrality (which is essential for giving clients the best chance of reaching a mutually agreeable solution). The techniques outlined above are what we use to reduce bias or, since we’re humans and not robots, reduce the impact of our biases on our thoughts and on our actions during our sessions.

      1. HR Pro

        This is a good example of a situation or profession where having the ability to have a poker face can be very important. I find that in HR there are a lot of situations like that, too. If I rolled my eyes at an employee when they came to me to make a complaint, for example, there’s no way they’d have confidence in my ability to resolve it for them (and why would they want me to resolve it if my face showed that I thought they were being ridiculous?).

      2. Sospeso

        I’d love to hear more about your experience volunteering as a mediator, GOG11! I work in HR, and while I agree with HR Pro that being aware of your nonverbal cues in our field is important, I imagine it would be relevant in even more of the day-to-day work you’d do as a mediator.

  90. Jake

    Huge problem for me.

    My problem was that i was continually stressed. When I left for a lower stress position, my ability to control myself increased very significantly.

    I was recently given a lot more responsibility, and I’m finding that my poker face has pretty much evaporated with the additional stress.

    My advice is to do whatever you can to reduce your overall stress level.

  91. C Average

    I want to flip this question over: Do any of you work with someone who needs to develop a workplace poker face or whose face seems stuck in a permanently unpleasant expression?

    I’m realizing that I do work with a couple of people like this, and I probably make some unfair assumptions about them. For example, I work with a woman whose face always looks disapproving. She’s never SAID anything disapproving and she’s never been anything but nice and helpful, but I’ve always steered clear of her. I think it’s because of her face!

    This thread is causing me to examine a few of my own prejudices.

    1. SevenSixOne

      I’m not a very smiley person and my neutral expression looks a lot like Grumpy Cat, so I’m sure a lot of my co-workers think I’m an ogre. I’m not, I swear! This is just how my face looks!

  92. BeckyDaTechie

    I developed my “stone face” as a way to enrage my mother to the point that she wouldn’t hit me during a spell of emotional problems she had when I was a teen. She wanted a reaction so she had an excuse to vent her temper on me; I refused to give it to her. I was able to use that feeling of superiority, “Haha, I can control myself, and I’m supposed to be a moody, irrational teenager. Sucks to be you,” to keep myself calm. To this day, dropping into that expression (my eyebrows lower, my jaw goes from clenched to about the position you use to say the word “this” or “these”, without actually moving my tongue against my teeth or opening my lips, my chin comes down just a touch, one side of my mouth perks just a smidge) irritates the crap out of her.

    They are the parties overreacting to what should be a simple, “Do you have something to add?” opportunity. You are the one aware that they’re irrational; thus, you are ultimately the one in control here. Use that knowledge (and, heck, maybe even pride?) to assert your calm with attentive but detached posture. You see a lot of it in Congress, so maybe watch a little bit of CSPAN one day and keep your eyes on the background v the speakers to compare/contrast and pick up some pointers?

  93. SevenSixOne

    Something that helps me is standing in front of a mirror while one of those “Talking Heads Argue About Stuff” news shows is playing. Those shows always get me ALLLLL worked up. I don’t hold back and let whatever I’m feeling show on my face/body and really pay attention to what that looks like until the segment is over. When the next segment starts, I try not to let anything show on my face but mild polite “hmm, that’s interesting. Tell me more about why you feel that way” confusion. It can be really hard– you usually can’t show no expression without seeming rude or disinterested, so you have to show just enough expression to show that you’re listening and taking the speaker seriously.

  94. Nichole

    I’m SO glad I read this yesterday, because I needed it today! I borrowed someone’s “put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and keep your teeth apart” tip (I can’t find it now, but thank you!) when my boss told me some things they knew I would Not Like. I just kept that face with appropriate variations ranging from small smile-not-smirk to concerned nod and kept telling myself “no talking.” That may not always be usable, but it was clear in this situation that it was sharing of information that was occurring, not a conversation, so “no talking” kept me from sharing my opinions on a topic that’s not up for discussion anyway and gave me some time to think. My boss still picked up that I wasn’t happy, but at least I didn’t make it worse.

  95. Bobbi

    I have a tendency to turn beet red in the face if I’m uncomfortable in ANY way in the professional sphere: if I disagree with what is being said, if I feel embarrassed, or, the worst, if I feel embarassed for the other person speaking which usually comes across as I am feeling guilty for something I have done. This may not be “good advice,” but I find that thinking of something else (I go for grape popsicles, the ocean, fish, fields of daisies) entirely for a minute or two while saying things like “Yes,” and “Sure,” or “That makes sense” seems to keep the blushing at bay.

  96. Ireference

    Those are great tips. I believe that every manager should be an active listener. By being an active listener, you will be able to potentially learn from your meetings and provide constructive input/opinion.

  97. Madie

    Watch how fast food employees deal with issues, especially teenagers. We tend to get in serious trouble if we display anything other than concern for the customer, even if their complaint has nothing to do with them, e.g. ‘your toilet paper is too thin’.
    In my time under the joys of the yellow ‘M’, I have been physically threatened, verbally harassed and abused. My eyebrows tend to display my emotions very clearly, and so to avoid getting into trouble, I tend to put on a ‘mildly concerned face’. Eyebrows pulled slightly together, nodding very slightly, as if their screaming at my ‘complete f##king screw up’, is someone telling me about how their aunt is sick.
    Also, find someone who shares your opinions, that you trust. Another way of dealing with stupid people being stupid, is to imagine everything you could say, but are choosing not to. Then, after a meeting find your trustworthy friend and bitch about it. This has saved me a good few times

  98. newlyhr

    I had to manage someone who had a very difficult time controlling her body language–her facial expressions, posture, etc. The anger rolled off her like a fogbank coming in–she would squint her eyes, set her jaw, sigh, huff, make jerky movements, drop her jaw, shake her head, –you name it. She had a good technical skill set, but her people interaction was honestly the worst I had ever seen. I talked to her about it, coached her, etc. She told me I was trying to turn her into a Stepford wife and that she was allowed to feel the way she was feeling. I explained that I was trying to help her be more effective at her job, and these behaviors were hindering her effectiveness and her ability to work with her colleagues to get work done.

    I eventually terminated her because she was causing so much difficulty with her colleagues and with our clients. No one wanted to work with her, because the storm boiled every time you tried to engage her. She was upset and told me “I never say anything inappropriate” to which I replied “Not every message you convey comes out of your mouth.”

    The suggestions others have given are good ones. My only addition is to get someone you trust to give you some honest feedback and to help you–they can say to you–oh you are doing that thing with your face again right now—which can help you understand your triggers and how you are feeling inside when you are displaying this behavior.

  99. Volunteer Enforcer

    I asked a mentor a similar question (avoiding conveying negative emotions) and his answer included zoning out (like imagining doing something you enjoy), finding a positive in the person / subject matter.

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