my boss says I’m too much of an “open book” emotionally

A reader writes:

I work at a medium-sized pharmaceutical company. I have direct reports and also work with associates who don’t report to me, but carry out work I create.

I have had problems with Lola, a talented associate who can be (by many accounts) thin-skinned. She has a way of speaking as though she is telling me how to do my job and we just … clash. Recently, she emailed her manager, my manager (Lisa), and our HR partner (Kate) about an incident where she said I was disrespectful to her and she is now so anxious in any interaction with me that she no longer wants to work on my projects. She says I roll my eyes at her in meetings and treat her differently than I treat the other associates. Lisa told me about this. I feel terrible — I don’t want anyone to be afraid of talking to me. Lola was right, I didn’t handle that incident well.

Which brings me to a meeting with Lisa and Kate. Lisa said I am an open book emotions-wise and Lola says “people” are afraid to approach me. Lisa then said that I make a face when disagreeing with someone and that I do roll my eyes at Lola in meetings. I started to shake my head because I couldn’t remember having done that, and Lisa said I was making the face right then, shaking my head and not listening. Kate said maybe what Lisa was seeing wasn’t a conscious thing on my part, but emotions playing across my face. Lisa, in a very serious tone, told me to modulate my facial expressions going forward.

It’s true that I am an open book feelings-wise. When I’m mad, happy, sad, whatever, it shows. I’ve been this way my whole life. People have said they are afraid to approach me because I look intense. I’ve fought against this, tried to rein it in, develop more of a poker face, and it killed my self-esteem because nothing I did seemed to help. A few years ago, I stopped fighting against it since it wasn’t doing any good and decided to accept it. I even decided being an open book could have its good points — I can’t play games, so everyone knows exactly where I stand.

I want to work things out with Lola because it is true that I have been short with her. But I now feel like the problem is really more with Lisa. I’m scared that what she wants — for me to develop a poker face — is something I am not capable of doing. And if I can’t do it to her satisfaction, she won’t let me move up or, worse, she’ll get rid of me. Kate says HR can coach me on modulating my expressions, so I’ll try that, but I’ve been working on it so long anyway, how far am I likely to get in a time frame Lisa is happy with? I’ll ask what happens if I don’t modulate my expressions enough at my next meeting with Lisa.

Am I not cut out for this kind of management? My direct reports seem pretty happy and I have always gotten great reviews on my work output. Lisa is planning to ask Lola for names as to who else has complained and then she will see what they have to say about me. I agreed to that, but it feels like a witch hunt. I’m really worried (and it shows).

Well, if you’re rolling your eyes or looking pissed off, that is genuinely a problem. Those things are overtly hostile, and you can’t be overtly hostile to people at work.

Rolling your eyes at someone is dismissive and contemptuous. It’s not that different from saying out loud “I think you’re an idiot” or “what an asinine remark” or “I don’t respect you.” And you probably agree you can’t say those sorts of things to colleagues and still be thought of as professional or pleasant to work with, right? It’s not that different when you convey those things with your face.

(To be clear, I am not talking about Resting Bitch Face here — the expression your face has when it’s naturally at rest. I’m talking about eye rolls, grimaces, etc.)

Lisa wasn’t out of line to tell you that you need to modulate your facial expressions going forward. You’re communicating when you do things with your face. Obviously there’s some room for grey here — a slight frown might not be a big deal, but eye rolls in particular are always going to be over the line.

I don’t know specifically what you’ve tried in the past to have more of a poker face, but there are some good suggestions from commenters in this post.

One thing I’d recommend that you try with Lola in particular, since she clearly pushes your buttons, is to pretend she’s either (a) an obscenely wealthy patron who pays you enormous sums of money and who you have a vested incentive to be kind to or (b) your elderly grandmother who’s in difficult circumstances and who you have compassion for. Or if you have a loved one who you know can be difficult but who you’d want people to be kind to, (c) Lola is now that person in your head.

Similarly, are there any circumstances where you do manage to control the emotions on your face? Meeting a VIP? In a house of worship, if you’re religious? At a funeral? With a child? If there are times when you do manage to do it, you have the ability to do it. And I get that you might feel like it’s one thing to control your face for an hour, and an entirely different thing to have to do it 40 hours a week … but again, you can’t be sending off hostile signals at work. You just can’t. And frankly, that’s part of what you’re being paid for — to get along reasonably well with people even if you don’t like them, to be reasonably pleasant to work with, and to regulate what emotions you display.

You also asked if you’re not cut out for this kind of management, and the answer is that I don’t know! But I can tell you that if you really can’t control how your face reads, that’s almost certainly going to cause problems for the people you manage at some point. If you’re managing someone who isn’t the brightest, is your face going to show that you think that? In other situations, will your face show impatience, anger, disdain, annoyance? If so, yeah, those are going to be problems for people you have power over.

I don’t want to ignore the issue of you feeling like this is simply impossible for you, and how demoralizing it was when you tried and couldn’t do it in the past. I wonder if it’s something that cognitive behavioral therapy might help with — and if you haven’t tried that, it’s worth considering because I do think you’ll find there are massive advantages (both professional and personal) to not having your face broadcast what you’re thinking every minute.

{ 524 comments… read them below }

  1. the_scientist*

    I’m someone who occasionally has moments of “wow, I should NOT have made that face out loud,” so I have some empathy for the OP not having a good poker face. But sorry, OP, developing a poker face and not letting your emotions show is just part of moving into management and it’s something you WILL need to cultivate to move up. It’s simply not appropriate to show disdain towards people reporting to you (or to anyone else for that matter).

    Your manager is already telling you, directly, that this is an issue you need to work on. I don’t know that I have any suggestions for how specifically to do this, but you do need to work on it.

    1. pleaset*

      All this. And I think it can be learned, with practice. Or at least most people can improve.

    2. Cindy Featherbottom*

      I have the exact same problem as OP and (thankfully), I’ve had bosses/managers along the way that have helped me with it. One of the things that has helped me is to have someone point it out when its happening so I’m more aware. Just having that awareness was huge. I learned WHO I was making that face to and (sometimes) WHY and under what circumstances. Once I was more more aware that I was doing it, I asked my friends and family to point it out as well. I’ve gotten a lot better about recognizing what circumstances would cause my face to show what I was trying *not* to say and how to better control it. If I knew that I was about to deal with a difficult client that could evoke my face to have a mind of its own, I went in much more aware and tried to either maintain a neutral face the whole time or show a little more of a smile (albeit, not a creepy overdone one). If a situation gets difficult or annoying out of nowhere, I tend to look at the floor for a brief moment, take a deep breath, and focus on how I’m portraying myself instead of letting my face decide for me how I’m going to be portrayed (basically take a mental reset moment). I think learning more about what sets off the incidents could be a huge help for you.

      1. Sally*

        I discovered that sometimes I sigh and sound like I think the topic is hopeless, when that is actually not the case at all! I found out when I was creating a training video. In addition to editing out the “ums,” coughs, and sniffs, I had to edit out the unintended frustrated-sounding parts. Now I try to always pay attention to how I’m sounding. It’s work, but I am hoping that it will eventually become second nature.

        1. SigneL*

          Yes, it isn’t my face so much as the sigh that I often make without realizing it. Someone pointed it out to me, and once I was aware, I was horrified by how often I sigh!

          1. KimberlyR*

            Same. I’ve looked it up before and I think mine is caused by lack of sleep. Sighing can give you a boost of oxygen, which helps make you more alert. So now I can sometimes be more aware and stifle the sighs when they happen. It took a long time of my husband asking, “what’s wrong?” and my surprised “nothing, why?” before I even noticed the problem.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              I’ve been told by a therapist sometimes it’s to ward off anxiety. Which is why I do it. But I have to explain that to people sometimes

          2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

            I was in a meeting recently with a woman who sighed at least a half dozen times. It was hard not to take it as the breathing equivalent of eye rolling.

      2. Blue*

        The awareness thing goes a long way. My last boss flagged this as something for me to work on (though he didn’t do so until he decided I would be promoted to a management position and wanted me to prepare accordingly), and just a couple times of him saying, “Did you realize you made a face when [person said something dumb]?” made me much more aware of it in real time, which was the first step in controlling it.

        I do the small-smile thing, too. When I have a friend who’s very uncomfortable with public speaking presenting at an all-staff meeting, for example, I generally make an effort to look pleasantly engaged and encouraging, even if they’re clearly struggling, so I now try to channel that same kind of pleasantness with people I don’t care about as much.

        Looking at the floor and centering yourself is a good approach! My version of this is to focus on taking notes. I turn most of my attention to the thing I’m writing down, which gives me a second to get my face under control while still looking on-task. I’m known for taking lots of notes, so this is very on-brand for me and helps a lot. Even still, keeping my face under control requires constant vigilance, since it doesn’t come naturally. I think being conscious of why you’re doing it, as you are, makes it easier to stay focused.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I had to learn how to do the small smile thing, too–I have a baaad RBF, at least as a child I looked clinically depressed even when I wasn’t–and so I did a small smile thing all the time (which barely sets my face to neutral, so it looks pretty good).

      3. Lady Blerd*

        Thank you for this. There is someoe at my office who does this and first I took it personally but now I realize that she may not be conscious of doing it. This is helpful advice.

        1. Blue*

          There’s a VERY good chance she didn’t realize she was doing it, or at least not the extent to which she was doing it. It literally took my boss pointing out when it happened for me to start catching myself. But this is a good reminder of why it’s good to work at managing your face! Don’t want people to accidentally think you hate them.

    3. Former Borders Refugee*

      I also live in a glass face, and have developed a couple of bland faces which feels to me like a dead giveaway. People who know me well know what those faces mean (“Why are you using your ‘I don’t want you to know what I’m thinking’ face????”) but (and here’s the key) people who don’t know me well don’t know what it means.

      I practiced them in mirror before trying them out with people.

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        Same. This is actually something I really enjoyed about being able to work remotely – not having to regulate my face! But in the same way that you shouldn’t snap at a coworker, your face shouldn’t, either, so it’s worth the effort to practice.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          When I was young I was always giving people “dirty looks.” Now we call it RBF.

          Something that works for me is to do that lifting my forehead, opening my eyes a little more thing that we do when listening (for the 100000000000 time about Power Rangers!!!) to a kid tell us something and we want to seem interested.

          Just make sure to refrain from the “speaking to a child” thing. Talk like a grown up. Don’t ask me how I know.

    4. WTFmoment*

      I’d argue it’s not just management, but basically all office jobs.

      To OP, I have always had a similar trait. My friends used to point out when I met someone I didn’t like, etc. One thing that helped me a LOT is to take improv classes. Since a lot of improv is WTF moments that you treat like totally normal things, I got better at treating the ridiculously stupid things my boss says as totally normal things. I treat ludicrous and bad suggestions as an improv offer that I have to accept. Then I make suggestions that he doesn’t listen to and then I pretend like I’m not heavily job hunting :)

      1. EH*

        Improv, I love it!

        I sometimes use acting as a way to keep myself from reacting harshly: I pretend I’m playing a character who’s unflappably cheerful or totally calm or whatever. I use this when I feel anxious about work stuff too – I pretend I’m playing a character who isn’t afraid of the thing I’m freaking out about.

        1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          I have definitely found acting lessons very useful for that sort of thing, whether it’s keeping a poker face or pretending to be “more confident me” when doing public speaking.

        2. WTFmoment*

          I do that too! I play characters that aren’t scared of public speaking like normal me is!

          1. BookishMiss*

            Oh yes to the paying a character. Work Miss is endlessly patient, friendly, and polite, and she just loves talking to people and fixing their self inflicted problems. She is a master of the absorb and redirect, and can AND WILL explain things as many times and ways as needed until understanding is achieved.
            Real Miss…well, I have all that, but definitely not to the extent required at work. Pretty sure I’ve described myself here as a mix of Oscar and Eeyore. But I’m getting paid for doing a job, so I’ve built a way to do the job without rolling my eyes out loud.

            1. TardyTardis*

              I developed that persona during tax season, too (when telling someone for the millionth time that ‘you withheld $3000 less in taxes this year, that’s why you aren’t getting a refund, please go to your payroll place and get that fixed or it will happen again next year’). It worked out pretty well, most of the time.

    5. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, you just canNOT give up on this being undoable for you. A poker face is a requirement in life.

      I sympathize because I have those issues with my voice, but I cannot give up on trying to modulate my voice to please others. I have to in order to stay employed.

    6. Le Sigh*

      I also think it’s just good practice for life. I’m a bit of a compulsive eye-roller and am not always good to controlling my face — but I’ve worked on it not only because it would hurt me professionally, but personally. It’s not exactly productive to be in an intense or tough conversation with your friends or family or SO and, when they say something that annoys you, immediately roll your eyes. I’ve done that, and it immediately and understandably puts the other person on edge — so now, instead of having a productive conversation, the other person is focused on how you’re visually dismissing what they have to say. It’s derailing and hurts the other person, even if that’s not what you intend. And sometimes if you take a second, you realize they might have a point, even if it annoys you in the moment–but an eye roll might cause all of that to be lost. So it’s important to not just vomit your immediate reactions all over the place.

      Good communication skills are important and take work! Whether Lola is thin-skinned or not (which … I dunno that I’d respond well if my boss rolled her eyes at me), rolling your eyes at your staff takes the focus off of work and will raise your colleagues’ and employees’ hackles.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Reformed eye roller here…

        When I feel an eye roll coming in I close them. Not tight or overly long…like a couple beats more than a normal, subconscious blink would last. IDK why but when I open them two seconds later (I just timed myself) the urge to roll them is gone.

        If I am with a particularly eye roll inducing person I will mix it up and look down, to the side, dead square in their eyes…all for only a couple seconds.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        A good investment of time and self-training, I’d say.
        Eye-rolling is counted among well-known bullying techniques.
        Here’s the shame of it, some eye rollers are NOT bullies, they just happen to roll their eyes too often. Eye-rolling is a good habit to be shed of.
        Once I read that I decided no more eye rolling ever. I used to roll my eyes in the context of someone sharing something that was over the top. I realized even with minimal use of eye-rolling I was probably better off to use words. “Oh, gosh that is awful! I am sorry to hear this!” It’s better to just say words out loud than leave people to guess what the thought is behind the eye-roll.

    7. Lefty (not my usual name)*

      One option is to look for places where your “gestural honesty” is prized. And then, go in making sure that you very intentionally add in or accentuate positive gestures and expressions, when you’re feeling positive, but it’s not showing. (People will always over-react to the negative ones.)

      Assuming you’re staying:

      1. Present it as a culture / background thing. (Even if you suspect it isn’t.) Thank them profusely for making you aware that it doesn’t land right, here, and explain that you’ll be working on it. Then…still go with “accentuate the positive expressions.”

      2. Don’t ever try for blank; it’s dehumanizing for you, and creepy for others, in an “uncanny valley” sort of way. Try for different. It’s much more likely to succeed.

      For example: it’s possible to cultivate postures that partially screen your expressions until you’re ready to let them show. Some people’s “momentary thinking pose” is “head back, eyes closed” or they tent their hands in front of their mouth and lower face while concentrating on someone’s presentation. Bangs partially hide forehead and eyebrow gestures. It’s not the most open stance, but it…may be better than the alternative.

      3. If you’re looking up (not rolling your eyes) and it’s registering as “weird”:

      Be aware that there’s a left-right difference in how raising your eyes to either side feels (and how it is read). And that has social consequences. Try it–look up diagonally to one side, and hold the position, while thinking. Now, the other side. Most people will find that one side feels more like a “considering / recalling / general thinking” position, while the other is more negative (embarrassed, guilty, avoidant, irked, judgmental etc). Problem is, we don’t all map to the same side. And it’s not an even split. Significant majority goes one way. And even people in the minority default to the majority explanation, for other people. (Same way that left handed batters or left handed tennis players are challenging for both right handed and left handed opponents. Unusual = unusual, even if you’re one of them.) So if you’re in the minority, your expressions will fairly consistently be misread. (Even by people who don’t itentionally do so based on the grossly oversimplified, “how to tell when someone is lying” trick.) Sometimes, naming the problem (or inviting people to do this exercise) can clear the air. Especially if it turns out that both you and your non-gelling “nemesis” are on the same (minority) side of the laterality divide.

      1. Reliant*

        Thank you for this. The posts recommending a blank look left me cold. People using it can come off as untrustworthy tools. And we wonder why so many people are not engaged at work.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I had to work at controlling my face starting when I was a TA in graduate school — my natural tendency is to do a face about everything, but when you TA intro classes it is inevitable that someone is going to ask you a stupid question they should know the answer to (e.g. “There was a quiz yesterday???” when that is on the syllabus, you went over the schedule on the first day of class, and you have been warning them about the quiz coming up for a week), and it is not okay to pull a face at them when they do it.

          I basically plaster a look of engaged curiosity onto my face every time someone starts talking to me in a professional context. I apparently come off as enthusiastic and open when I do this, even when I genuinely think someone has just been a complete doofus. I don’t look fake, I just look interested in what people are saying to me, and they like that.

          Also sometimes I pretend to be thinking about how to answer someone’s question when I’m really controlling my facial expression or reeling my brain back from being outraged. A well-placed “Hmm! Well…” gets me far. And really I am thinking about how to answer their question… how to answer it without being rude.

          I currently work at a job where I have to spend a lot of time dealing with clients who are some mix of clueless about what I do and totally unreasonable, so it’s REALLY helpful.

    8. Alexander Graham Yell*

      “I should not have made that face out loud” is something I think frequently in my personal life but have managed to control in my professional life – and that’s not something I just think, I’ve had it brought up by HR and former team members. No matter how frustrated, impatient, or easily annoyed I consider myself to be, the teams I’m on have always said I was patient, understanding, and calm at work. (Contrast that to me in my personal life, where after watching me react to somebody being particularly irritating, my roommate said, “WOW I hope you can control your face better than that at work.”)

      I bring this up just to say this is a VERY learnable skill, and there is literally only one thing I did to cultivate it: I treat everybody like I own my own business and they are my only customer. In my daily interactions, ESPECIALLY with people who irritate me, I actively look for things we can work together on, and treat everybody like they are important. When I worked retail, I learned that the only way to combat frustrating situations was to essentially become nicer – the sweeter I sound, the more likely it is that I’m annoyed. But that’s something *I* know and nobody else does. (It also has the side benefit of highlighting how unreasonable somebody is being if you can stay calm and nice and they escalate the situation.)

      You don’t need to win people over and have them love you, OP, but you *do* need to make sure they know that they can come to you with questions and you’re willing to help and collaborate. Your job is to get your job done, and you can’t do that well if people don’t want to work with you.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP, this is probably the #1 piece of criticism I’ve gotten over my career too. I like to say that I have “active bitch face” because you can usually tell exactly what I’m thinking from my facial expressions. It’s hard to work on, but Alison is right that it’s something you do need to work on. The best advice I can give is to just be consciously aware of it.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      A contractor recently commented (in much more polite terms) that I must have resting bitch face, because I always look so irritated when I’m driving in the plant.

      In reality, it’s active bitch face, because he’s an idiot and blocks half the road (going the wrong direction), and I get irritated having to wait for him to get his butt in gear and stop blocking the road so I can go do what I need to do. To be fair, I also had no idea that I was making an Irritated Face obvious enough to be seen whilst driving, so that got put on my list of maybe sing German swears to myself instead, because then it just looks like I’m singing to the radio instead of cursing out his ancestry.

    2. Cup of Ambition*

      This is me, too. Unfortunately, it is only negative emotions that I can’t keep hidden. Happiness and enthusiasm I can’t manage to show, at least not to anyone else’s satisfaction.

      1. Moth*

        This is very much me too. I struggle to not show on my face when I’m irritated or (more often) incredulous, to the point that people have pointed it out. But if I’m happy or excited about something, I’ll get asked why I’m “not more happy about this?” I AM happy, my three-quarter smile apparently isn’t enough though. I think I’ve figured out that I keep most of my extreme emotions very much in check, it’s just the eye roll or bewildered look that I have to work to keep covered.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        I could be over the moon ecstatic and cant dhow it yo anyone’s satisfaction, ever. I do try though because I know we want to feel like thing we did, gift we gave was good/liked/helped, etc., but it’s a *lot* of work.

    3. Jenn*

      I’m always getting this criticism too, but a lot of the time it’s wrong. I hear a lot of a “you seem upset”, “you seem sad” from my boss and I have not idea how to react to those kinds of comments when I’m actually not upset or sad, I’m just concentrating on my work. I don’t roll my eyes, scoff, etc.. Have you done anything else to work on this, beyond being aware of your expression?

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Oh me too. I’m not upset, sad, mad at you. You are not in trouble. I am working.

        Le sigh…

        1. BookishMiss*

          I’ve replied with “this is my thinking face” and a chuckle more than once. But my thinking face turns off and my work face turns on during my regularly scheduled hours.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I was like that, too–I ended up forcing a small half-smile–which only brings my face to neutral–and eventually it set there through muscle memory.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I got this feedback somewhat often from my old boss. He told me not to ever play poker because he could read my face like a book. The irony was that I had nothing but contempt for him. If he could actually read what I was thinking, he would have fired me on the spot.

      What helped me earlier in my career was watching people I considered to be good negotiators and strategic thinkers. A calm, neutral face is a powerful face. It also can be very useful when you want to show emotion. It’s kinda like swearing. If you almost never swear, the few f-bombs you drop are much more impactful. Whereas if you swear all the time, people just tune it out.

      1. Janie*

        Rather than an irritated face, my eye tends to involuntarily twitch when someone says something stupid or illogical like “The sky is green”. I have been told it looks like a computer screen glitching while I try to wrap my head around how they could possibly think that. I don’t know how obviously negative it comes off to those unsuspecting, but people who know me well find it funny to watch.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I wonder how gendered this is. It seems that everyone (so far as I’ve read) saying they do this/have had it addressed by a boss, etc. is a woman.

          I wonder how much this is because society expects women to always be pleasant and/or have a pleasant face while the same face (not the eye rolling) from a male would be considered neutral and not result in any kind of reprimand.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Commenters here are disproportionately women in general (from what I can tell), but a lot of the people who said they’ve had it addressed don’t have names that indicate gender.

          2. TL -*

            I think men are penalised heavily socially for showing emotions in general and women are more likely to be socially ‘forgiven’ for this kind of behavior.
            All of my brothers’ friends call them out easily on facial expressions, whereas I think the bar for women to speak up to other women is (broadly speaking) a lot higher. Women don’t tend to say “Dude, did you just roll your eyes at me?” to other women.
            Boys in my classes were also more likely to get disciplined for something ‘written all over their face’ – girls usually just got a short scolding and then ignored.
            Women are certainly expected to be pleasant a lot but their emotions also tend to be regarded as ‘cute’ into early or even mid-adulthood. So men are pressured into emotional regulation (or repression), especially professionally, to a degree that women aren’t. Then, women hit an age or position where their emotions aren’t considered ‘cute’ anymore, but taken seriously by those around them, and having no poker face becomes a huge issue.

            1. TardyTardis*

              The military was good for that for me–when you are round and cute and look like you’re the right age to sell Girl Scout cookies, it’s hard to be seen as a leader of persons (ok, being a butterbar didn’t help either). And having a Professional Face is a very good way to hide one’s true thoughts about one’s current CO (especially the ones that involved the proper application of napalm).

    5. Wendy Darling*

      My natural state is for my feelings to be plastered all over my face. I’ve trained myself to control my face in professional settings but I limit my drinking very strictly at work outings because as soon as I’m the littlest bit tipsy it all goes out the window and I start making “that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard” faces again.

  3. sticky note*

    You don’t like her tone, she doesn’t like your expression. So it doesn’t sound like she’s the only one with “thin skin.” But she’s the one who actually tried to address the issue.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Jeez, a little hostile there? If you don’t have anything helpful to add, then you can at least not be unnecessarily harsh.

      1. Annette*

        I see sticky note’s point. LW is letting Lola get to her. Everyone else can sit in a meeting with her. But LW rolls her eyes. This suggests someone who is oversensitive.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I think a more helpful way to approach this is to figure out why Lola presses OP’s buttons, and then OP can reframe it so it doesn’t bother her.
          I’ve always found it helpful to think of how it feels to be the annoying, hostile, frustrated, etc. person. It’s a miserable feeling. Then I feel compassion for them and it helps my attitude.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          It could be that everyone is rolling their eyes at Lola. But the problem at hand is that OP manages Lola and does it.

          1. AMT*

            I don’t think OP is Lola’s manager — it sounds like she’s on the same level as Lola. “Recently, she emailed her manager, my manager (Lisa), and our HR partner (Kate)…”

            1. AMT*

              Sorry, I read that wrong. OP is *a* manager and works with associates like Lola who do not report to her.

    2. KR*

      I’d argue that OP has done a lot to address the issue. She wrote a letter to a well respected workplace advice columnist. To quote OP directly, “I’ve fought against this, tried to rein it in, develop more of a poker face, and it killed my self-esteem because nothing I did seemed to help.” She clearly seems to be stressing about it. She is re-evaluating her career and abilities based on this feedback. I’m not sure you read the letter completely.

    3. BRR*

      I don’t know if I’d say Lola is trying to address the issue. At the very least Lola isn’t addressing the issue well.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        If someone is hostile to you, the best thing to do is escalate to a manager and not try to take it on yourself, if you take it on yourself, you open yourself up for “over-stepping” issues and not following chain of command issues in some offices. So I don’t see that Lola isn’t addressing the issue well.

        Especially in the letter it says that Lola is viewed as “thin skinned’ and been on the receiving end of someone who doesn’t listen to her. Why would she try to work it out without dragging in someone with authority to tell the OP to “fix it or we’ll fix it for you, which may mean you won’t be here anymore.”

        1. Trisha*

          Nope – the best thing you can do is bring it up *in the moment it’s happening*. “OP, it seems like what I just said, you don’t agree with – you rolled your eyes. I feel like my words were just dismissed, can we discuss this issue further?”

          I have an employee where people were telling me she was “intimidating”. I had to dig deeper into the issue – and one of her questions is How? What is it that I’m doing that’s intimidating? That line about “people are scared of you” needs context and clear examples. These are more easily provided in the moment than some vague feeling after the fact. “When you did x, I felt reluctant to ask further questions because I felt my concerns weren’t being taken seriously.”

          1. MissGirl*

            That’s a lot to ask from someone who is already scared and intimidated by a manager. The very nature of the complaint means they’re not going to be able to express those emotions in the moment because they are afraid of them and their response. The manager has failed to provide a safe place for the employee to express those emotions.

            Tone is also everything. If you have someone intimated by you and you demand to know what they find intimidating, you may have already answered your own question. If the employee is more sensitive and the manager hasn’t done something to warrant a fearful response (which the OP in this case admits to it), then a conversation about communication without demanding examples is more in line.

            1. WTFmoment*

              Since the issue is specifically eye rolling, Lola has valid reason to believe that concerns raised to LW#1 will be dismissed. I, personally, would have no faith that a person that rolled their eyes at me would take me seriously when I tried to talk to them about such open disdain.

              Also, it would require tone gymnastics (that I’m not capable of) to make the script Trisha suggested seem neutral and not challenging. Especially specifically calling out a very inappropriate behavior, like eye rolling, that many people would want to deny.

            2. Trout 'Waver*

              On the flip side, people often claim to be intimidated or scared when they have no reason to be, just to avoid difficult conversations. Also, people often come with baggage and past bad relationships with their managers and don’t think that you can actually have these conversations with your manager.

              Tone matters, but not nearly as much as actions and content. I would not say tone is everything.

              1. JOA*

                That seems a bit dismissive. Feeling conflict-averse is a reason, as are past bad relationships, regardless of whether you think it’s valid. Seeing others’ perspectives matters as well, and addressing a conflict based on the way people “should” act, as opposed to how they are acting, and why, has not been productive in my experience.

              2. The Hamster's Revenge*

                I’ve never managed folks, but I’ve been told that I am intimidating quite often. Why? Several people said it was because I’m taller than they are. I started insisting that all tense discussions take place over email, which pissed other people off, but no one complains that I appear physically threatening anymore.

              3. Busy*

                Yeah. This definitely. The only thing Lola did here is try to cover her butt. if people are regularly frustrated with you, and it sounds like its not just OP, then you are the problem.

                Eye-rolls show annoyance. They do not show that someone is about the pounce. At least not in general context. Like you couldn’t cry self defense if you punched your coworker for rolling their eyes at you. Everyone knows that. There are a lot of people (on here included) who really like to find ways to become the victim jst to make their claims sound more alarming. OP just fell into her trap here. OP is worried about herself in this instance. For all we know, Lola is getting a talking to as well – maybe even on her way out.

                All of this kind of reminds of something someone wrote on here a while ago. I don’t think it was a letter, but just in the comments somewhere. They told this story where they had to shut down a coworker who was scaring a bunch of freshman about suicide in the middle of a presentation. The coworker had essentially gone rogue and off topic and the writer had to stop her. That woman then tried to claim the same thing. OP is just having constructive criticism for her behavior to Lola here; it doesn’t mean that Lola’s interpretation of that behavior is correct. Not at all. It is over the top.

            3. Reliant*

              Possible that Lola is not scared and intimidated but has initiated a power struggle. I once managed a woman who refused to take any direction because she considered herself brilliant. She ended up complaining to my boss and HR that I was intimidating her. She misrepresented me so badly that I would not meet with her without a witness being present. So, there are two sides to every story.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I think it depends heavily on the folks involved and the situation. Addressing hostility in the moment *can* be a good idea – but only if you’re very careful about it, and manage to stay calm, and the hostile person you’re dealing with is a rational person in general. Otherwise, it can easily turn into escalation.

            Especially when the person you’re getting the hostility from is your manager, it can be even harder to address, in the moment or otherwise.

          3. milksnake*

            I agree with addressing things quickly and with solid examples.
            I got pulled into a meeting with my director because another manager at my level had “numerous complaints” about my interactions with people.

            The other manager refused to give examples, and just stuck by vague statements like “just do your job, people don’t react well to your feedback.”

            Part of my job is giving feedback, and not all feedback can be positive. My director agreed with this, but then the other manager pushed that I should to go through him to give any negative feedback…. Which I thought was extreme, and he agreed that there’s really no time for that and if it isn’t addressed immediately it is a safety concern…. but I should still defer to him on things that will upset people. Even though I have no idea what it is that upset people. And the whole meeting was left unresolved. With no examples of what I had done, and no clear plan to address it. It just came off as an attack on my character and an attempt to take away part of my job description.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I hope you said that last sentence either in the meeting proper, do he knows that you know…or at least to your boss.

            2. TL -*

              I had a boss who pulled me in for a meeting like that because I said no (politely and reasonably; not even to requests, just to questions, as in “No, I’m not sure why that thing isn’t right. That’s [incorrect thing] has been there since I started and we’ve never needed it.”) and then finished up by telling me multiple times that my job was to be more professional than my managers.

          4. I Took A Mint*

            Oh my goodness, I could never say that to someone who openly rolled their eyes at me in a meeting. Body language is still language. It’s not up to me to give someone a heads-up that their body language is intimidating. It’s up to you to not openly mock someone by rolling your eyes, using a harsh tone, and other signals that clearly indicate derision.

            If I feel reluctant to ask further questions because I feel my concerns aren’t being taken seriously, I’m certainly not going to coach that person on their behavior or engage them further if they can’t even show basic respectful behavior. Especially if they’re senior to me.

        2. BRR*

          I don’t necessarily disagree with you depending on the office and he people involved, but I tend to go with saying something first like Trisha said. I don’t think someone should try to take this on forever, but it seems like a situation where Lola could have tried to say something at least once.

          1. WTFmoment*

            From the letter: “Lisa then said that I make a face when disagreeing with someone and that I do roll my eyes at Lola in meetings. I started to shake my head because I couldn’t remember having done that, and Lisa said I was making the face right then, shaking my head and not listening.”

            It seems pretty clear to me that Lola could have tried talking to LW#1, but it wouldn’t have been productive. Part of the reason LW#1’s behavior is so bad for a manager is that it makes subordinates feel like they can’t bring concerns/ideas to LW#1.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              This. She was even being negative in a meeting with her HR and get manager. If I were Lola I’d probably go right to my manager instead of confronting OP too.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, that is a bad combo eye rolls, head shaking, making a face and not listening.

              Usually this indicates that someone is totally put-out by an entire conversation. They so vehemently disagree that there is no point to even trying to talk with them. This is how this reads to other people, OP. It may or may not be where you are at in reality, but it’s how it comes across to others.

              You can decide to substantially lessen the eye rolls and the head shaking. And you can decide to use words to show you are listening as a preemptive strike for those who think you are not listening. “Okay, I understand that you are saying I roll my eyes too much.” It’s sounds foolish just reading it here but in conversation it might make sense to do acknowledgements of what has just been said.

    4. Hills to Die on*

      For me, it helps to think that I’m not going to let this person get to me. I am not going to let them decide how others in the company perceive me and I am going to be untouchably professional. Be teflon. Go to HR and practice like they suggested. It will make you look really good. Use this as an opportunity to improve others’ perception of you. You can still think Lola is an ass, and maybe she is. But she won’t have the opportunity to impact your reputation.

  4. Kay*

    It seems like Lisa isn’t being very sensitive in how she’s handling this. Going back to Lola and asking for the names of who else has complained after she’s already taken the issue up with the OP seems unnecessary. Or possibly a step she should have taken before having that meeting with the OP.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I took that more as “let’s see if what Lola is saying re: multiple people being afraid to approach the OP is credible” — in other words, let’s test if this really is a widespread issue or if it’s mostly between the OP and Lola.

      1. Kay*

        That makes sense, and I don’t mean to nitpick, but wouldn’t you typically do that before scheduling a meeting with OP and HR? It really changes the context if it’s a widespread issue across the team

        1. Burned Out Supervisor*

          In my experience, when someone else states “Everyone else thinks so too” there’s a 50% chance that no one else thinks that (or maybe just one other person). Sometimes people use this type of statement to exaggerate the issue to elicit the response they want. Of course, you’re not going to find out until you do an investigation.

    2. sticky note*

      I’m guessing that the first time Lisa approached the LW, she didn’t get the response she needed. I’m guessing it was apparent that LW thinks the issue is with Lisa and Lola, and now Lisa needs to make her understand that the problem is bigger than that.

    3. Heidi*

      This may not end up being to the detriment of the OP. It is possible that Lisa only has 1 other person in mind, which is better than having an unknown but potentially vast number of “people” finding OP unapproachable. On the other hand, if there are a lot of people who have a problem with OP’s behavior, Lisa probably has an obligation to suss that out.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      That was my thought as well when reading through the letter – why didn’t Lisa verify the “others” before approaching the OP because, in my mind, that would change how I addressed it.
      If it is a personality clash between to coworkers, I think that can more easily be handled one-on-one. If half the team feels like OP is rude and dismissive of others then that is a much larger issue. On the other hand, if everyone Lisa talks to mentions how much they love OP, how refreshing it is to not have to guess where they stand, and also find Lola a PITA to deal with I might be looking a little harder to get OP’s side of things and dig deeper into Lola’s behavior as well.
      Not saying that it was OK for OP to roll her eyes at Lola, just that I have caught myself doing similar things when dealing with a particular coworker due to mainsplaining and ass kissing.

      1. Observer*

        I suspect that Lisa wanted to hear what the OP had to say, and see how she reacts before starting to talk to others about her. I can’t really blame her. And, her reaction really DOES bear out what Lola complained about, so now Lisa needs to find out how badly it’s affecting others.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, the head shaking and eye rolls and tuning out really did not help OP’s case. Just a wild guess on my part is that the boss did not see a problem UNTIL she spoke with OP and Lola together. That’s almost what it sounded like to me.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        It seems there are two issues OP wearing their emotions on their face and Lola/coworkers being afraid to interact with OP.

        Lisa already knows OP wearing their emotions on their face is an issue; “Lisa then said that I make a face when disagreeing with someone and that I do roll my eyes at Lola in meetings. I started to shake my head because I couldn’t remember having done that, and Lisa said I was making the face right then, shaking my head and not listening.”

        The part about checking with other co-workers is to see if others are afraid to interact with OP the way Lola is. Both issues are serious and need to be addressed but if more than one of OP’s coworkers (Lola) are afraid of OP then it rises to a whole another level of seriousness.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        I can see Lisa wanting to check first before asking other colleagues, because it could be embarrassing to have your manager asking everyone about a non-issue. So it’s respectful, I feel, to have a chat first before involving others.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I had a weird issue with a single coworker (I was having a bad day, we misunderstood each other, and I was snippier than I would normally be) and my manager came to me and said, “So Mandragora Sniddlebottom said you were very snappish in your interaction with her, what was up there?” and I said, geez, I’m sorry, it was a weird lapse because I was in a bad mood, I’ll apologize to her. (And I did, she accepted it, and we have a good relationship now.) I am sort of glad that he asked me first instead of going around asking other people if he thought I was short-tempered.

  5. DC Cliche*

    I’m a “shut down emotionally” type, but I’m also really sensitive. So that tends to show–not generally super obviously but frustration especially comes through. One thing that’s helped (and was in CBT) is being very clear with myself that “it’s not personal” It helps me separate “things that are happening” from “things that are happening to me” and that distance gives me clarity to act and react professionally in situations with people that I’m frustrated with or that are just generally tough. That might help too!

  6. Forrest*

    LW, you say you’ve tried to moderate your facial expressions and can’t do it, but it sounds like the attitude you’ve adopted is, “like it or lump it, this is me, but my concern is that my superiors don’t like it.” You say you want to work things out with Lola, but then go on to focus on your relationship with your seniors.

    What are you actually doing to work on your relationship with Lola? Why do you roll your eyes or react to her? If you can’t stop your emotions showing, have you tried paying attention to what your emotions are saying, and have you thought about what this is like from Lola’s point of view? If you can’t help yourself looking sceptical in meetings, do you catch up with her afterwards and say, “Hey, sorry if I looked sceptical there–that’s because I was jumping ahead to think about it in the context of ABC and thinking about why it mightn’t work in that situation. But I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your suggestions because there are a lot of places where that would be a good move and I’m going to give it some more thought!”

    “Face is an open book” is only part of the problem here. If you’re acting dismissive of subordinates and defensive when criticised, you also need to think about where those reactions are coming from and what you can do to counter them.

    1. AKchic*

      All of this.

      It has to be undermining for Lola to have someone openly (if silently) dismissive in meetings, and openly rolling her eyes (?!) in front of everyone else while she’s talking or otherwise presenting information to people and then get told “oh, that’s just how she is, you’ll get used to it”. No. If it were me, I’d be doing the same thing. I get paid to work with adults, so I want adult behavior. Missing Stairs need to be fixed, not act as trip hazards.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’m wondering if adding an activity to the mind-of-their-own facial expressions could help.

      Sometimes when I’m getting frustrated in a meeting or whatever, it helps me to start writing a note about it. Just the physical act of picking up the pen and noting the topic word can change a scowl to a “thoughtful moment of paying attention”. It also handily moves your face down and out of view. And once you turn back to the situation, you can have composed your face a little better.

      1. LJay*

        This sounds like a good idea. I believe generally it is easier to replace a behavior or habit with a different habit rather than just not doing the bad thing. So replacing rolling their eyes with something else could help.

    3. ket*

      Exactly. As I was reading this, I was thinking, maybe you need to change your emotions, not your way of showing them. I know people can be trying…. but would it change things if you approached everyone as if they’re doing the best they can? if you ‘cultivated compassion’ while talking with the trying people? Sure, that sounds hokey, and maybe it’s not the right approach for you — maybe finding humor would be better. Or finding common ground.

      Personally, I have done “loving-kindness meditation” while dealing with difficult people so that I can retain a beatific smile on my face. They’re doing the best they can, and if not, it’s still an opportunity for growth for me… I’ll breathe through it and try to smile again… I don’t have to 100% believe it for it to be useful :)

    4. Burned Out Supervisor*

      When I start feeling as if my emotions are getting the best of me in meetings, I ask myself if I’m really listening and hearing what the other person is saying. Am I really present in the conversation or am I just waiting till it’s my turn? I find that if I really listen to what the other person is saying, I’m less focused on how I feel about the person.
      OP might find it’s easier to moderate her expressions if she approaches meetings with Lola and others with a completely open mind and assuming good intent.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      One thought I had was learn to put into words what is on your mind, OP. This will reduce your reliance on face expressions and other body language.
      One question I have taught myself to ask myself is; “What do I want that I am not getting here?” My hurdle was frustration. Whenever I hit a frustrating situation I lost my vocabulary. Which only ADDED to my frustration. I dealt with tension by moving away from people to take a minute to think. So that meant a high number of trips to the restroom and a few imaginary UTI’s to cover it all. But it worked. I learned to articulate my concerns rather than just jump to frustration.
      Boss or Cohort: [saying frustrating, outlandish thing]
      Me: “Dang, can we hold on here a minute? I need the restroom. Darn UTI.”
      (Don’t use this one all the time, only use it when space between the rock and hard place is super narrow.)

      I am wondering how much of this applies to you? Do you lack the words you need for what runs through your head? My brain runs super fast sometimes. (Thanks, coffee.) Which is great in a fast paced environment but not great in a conversation. A bunch of “what-if scenarios” can run through my head in a flash. I can’t talk that fast. I learned to pick the most realistic/likely concern and talk about that concern. I would use the bathroom time to figure out what weighed on me most. And then how would I inquire about this concern.

      The second part I wonder about is do you think people will listen to you or no? Growing up, I might as well have talked to the walls. It took a while for me to realize that in the big world people actually, you know, listen to each other. A person who feels they will not be heard can resort to eye rolls, head shaking etc. Non-verbal communication can (sometimes) indicate a feeling of powerlessness.

  7. a1*

    I wonder if you’re seeing failure at controlling this as an all or nothing type of thing. Try looking at it in pieces. For example, just focus on controlling eye rolls, and once that’s better congratulate yourself. Then move on to frowns or head shakes, and so on. Each step is a win, you don’t have to have it all under control to for it to be success. I’d also think about what Alison asked – do you control this in certain situations like funerals, if so then you know it’s not impossible.

    1. ursula*

      This. Also, OP, I feel like maybe you’re over-identifying with this behaviour as a core part of Who You Are. That may have made sense at some point in your life, but if it’s not serving you well now, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. I actually don’t think the “grow a pokerface” framing is super helpful – you don’t have to stop expressing all kinds of emotion at work, or anywhere else! Specifically what they are asking you to do is to recognize your own triggers for bad and counter-productive behaviour (ie. the eye-rolling) and find a way to intervene with yourself before you react. This is a super normal thing that lots of us have to figure out how to do, in different contexts, and is actually pretty healthy! It doesn’t make you a robot – it’s an extension of the same skill you use to stop yourself from saying “that’s stupid” every time your coworkers make a bad suggestion and lets you say “I’m not sure that would work because of [X]” instead.

      You can do this! You will still be ‘you’! Don’t get stuck on feeling like it’s all or nothing.

      1. earl grey aficionado*

        Both a1 and ursula hit fantastic points. Behavior change doesn’t happen all at once (especially something as automatic and personal-feeling as facial expressions) so the more you can do to break up the change into manageable chunks, the better. It doesn’t even have to be as big a first step as “eliminate eyerolls” (although I agree with a1 and Alison that eye rolls should be your first priority, since they’re the most offensive habit you describe). The first step could be just committing to doing mental check-ins when you catch yourself making a facial expression. Noticing–not judging, just noticing–is the first step to lasting change. I was in DBT, which is a variant of CBT, for many years, and that was one of the most valuable lessons I got out of it.

        I also want to reiterate what ursula is saying about overidentifying with this behavior. Another DBT-ism that’s been helpful to me is understanding that all our behaviors, even currently-unhelpful ones, had a purpose for us at one time or another. I developed a “little white lie” habit a few years ago that I can tie pretty clearly to the rise of my chronic illness, when I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was struggling or what was going on. The problem was that the white lying became hugely counterproductive and unethical very quickly. It was painful to address the problem because of its ties to my illness, which is a huge part of my identity. Addressing it felt like someone telling me that I was worthless and incompetent because of my illness. The truth was a lot more neutral: the lying was a behavior that helped me cope at one point, but it was now no longer useful and even harmful, and changing the behavior was in fact honoring how far I’d come in my illness and my ability to cope with it rather than denying it.

        I have no idea if your aversion to developing a “poker face” goes anywhere near that deep and/or personal, but if it does, I really second Alison’s mention of CBT as a possibility. It can give you some breathing room to distance yourself from your behaviors, which is extremely helpful in changing said behaviors. Good luck, OP!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This is great stuff here, OP.
          I am agreeing about targeting the amount of eye-rolls first. That can hold you back professionally because people see it as such a put down. Sometimes it reads on a par with FU. I don’t think you’d want anyone saying that to you. And I don’t think you see how it hits some people as an FU

          I worked with a woman who had people counting the number of eye-rolls she did per shift. During a four hour shift we counted over 50 eye rolls some days. Our boss said she would never rise above the position she was in because she could not be trusted not to insult people. Every few months she would get spoken to yet again. This went on for years.

      2. TL -*

        My best coworkers and managers all managed to indicate their emotions without ever feeling rude or disrespectful or like they were composing their response while I was talking.
        It was by small, non-rude expressions that were brief and clearly a response to the situation and not to me. The expressions (no eye rolling, head shaking, rude “I don’t believe you faces”) also didn’t cut me off from speaking or make me feel like they weren’t listening. More like, “Okay, this didn’t go as I had hoped.”
        It’s not about showing no emotions or only showing positive ones. It’s about showing emotions that are conducive to the conversation and its goals. Rolling your eyes or shaking your head before someone has finished their thoughts is never going to help get a conversation to a productive place.

  8. Washi*

    Genuine question – can someone explain what it is like for this to be difficult for you? I get that it can be hard to pretend to be actively happy when you’re not, but keeping your face neutral when someone is doing something annoying feels like it’s in a different category to me. (But I know several people who really do struggle with it so I know it’s real! I just don’t really get it. I just…keep my face the same.)

    1. Natalie*

      It’s hard to know if this is what is happening with the OP, but what came to my mind is the action (such as the eye-rolling) being such a long-ingrained habit that the OP is no longer conscious of doing it. Thus, not doing the thing requires active focus, and if you let that active focus slip you end up doing the thing again.

      Of course, that kind of active focus wouldn’t be necessary forever – if you make a specific effort to change the eye-rolling habit, eventually it won’t be a habit anymore. Perhaps part of the OP’s problem is that they haven’t been viewing these as habits to change (rather than inherent qualities), or haven’t been using strategies that are effective for them.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        This might not be quite the same but maybe similar. I am a hummer. When I was younger I used to be pretty bad about it. I would do it in school and other students would point it out. For me it was/is a habit and when I do it, it is unconsciously. For the most part I am able to control it with a small amount of focus without really trying. At first I did have to actively focus and keep telling myself don’t hum, don’t hum, but now I don’t really think about it. Focus/control is kinda like a muscle at first when you start using it, it takes more effort/exertion to use it, but the more you do the less effort you eventually have to use.

        But every once in a while at work and home if I am really deeply focusing on something, usually reading/listening/watching a movie, my control will slip and I will start a low hum. It is low enough that at work in my own office people are likely not able to hear me unless they actually step into my office, and at home if I am by myself it doesn’t matter and if my partner is with me she is able to let me know and I can stop it.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          “Focus/control is kinda like a muscle at first when you start using it, it takes more effort/exertion to use it, but the more you do the less effort you eventually have to use.”

          That is so true. OP, you can do this. It may take practice, and whoever suggested practicing in a mirror upthread was spot on. Practice scenarios, past or anticipated, and your reactions to them. It will start to flow.

    2. Cindy Featherbottom*

      My face tends to have a mind of its own sometimes. Its kind of like people picking at the skin around their nails; sometimes they genuinely dont realize that they are doing it. Its just a subconscious thing. Thats how it is with my facial expressions. I dont realize I’m doing it sometimes. I might be able to keep a neutral face for a while, but if emotions get higher, then thats when I tend to show how I feel. It takes work since you dont realize you’re doing it but it can be manageable.

    3. nnn*

      Have you ever had an involuntary reaction? For example, your doctor hits your knee with that hammer thingy and your leg kicks? You’re walking down the street and a fly comes flying at your face and you wince and recoil? A loud noise surprises you and you startle?

      You know how these involuntary reactions happen before you even start thinking about how or whether you should react – sometimes before you even realize you’re reacting?

      For those of us who don’t have the acting skills to school our facial expressions, it’s like that with facial expressions.

      1. Washi*

        Aha! That makes sense. And is the facial expression reflective your internal state? Like every time you look angry, are you truly quite angry? Or is it sometimes more intense than your actual emotion, like you look angry but you’re just mildly annoyed?

        1. Snark*

          This is my problem. Apparently my face has no setting between “really?” and “’bout to throw them hands.”

          1. merp*

            This description is cracking me up. I’m the same, I used to have people tell me they thought I hated them when we first met. :( I hope that since I haven’t heard that in a while that it’s a bit better!

        2. nnn*

          I don’t think it’s reflective of my internal state 100% of the time, because when I was a kid I had adults around me say things like “Why are you scowling at Mrs. Neighbour?” or “Why are you screwing up your face like that?” when I wasn’t knowingly doing anything with my face or having any particular emotion.

          But I’m sure it reflects my internal state some of the time, because it would be weird for it not to.

          Most of the time, I don’t actually know, because usually when I’m having emotions I’m preoccupied by whatever is causing the emotions so it doesn’t occur to me to think about what my face is doing, and when I’m not having emotions I would assume my face is doing nothing so it wouldn’t occur to me to think about what my face is doing.

          1. RandomU...*

            The other problem is that it could be a reaction from thinking of something totally unrelated. That’s even harder because your facial expression/emotion doesn’t even match the situation that you’re in the middle of.

            I’ve been in the middle of a meeting and gotten a question if I had a question with something that was just said because I had a confused look on my face… truth be told, my mind had wandered and I was really trying to remember if I brought salad dressing with my salad for lunch.


            1. fposte*

              I have to watch the random inappropriate smirk myself, when something comes up that reminds me of something extraneous and funny. It’s really not a good look to smirk when somebody’s talking.

              1. emmelemm*

                Definitely. I try to only smirk (at my own inner thoughts) when I’m alone, but every once in a while…

              2. Not So NewReader*

                fposte, you are one of those rare exceptions where I could see the smirk, KNOW it was not “at me” and interrupt myself to say, “Okay, dish it. I need a good story.”

                My boss and I do this to each other. Our day can turn into, basically, nested derailments if we are not careful.

            2. nnn*

              You know, that might be the reason behind all the “Why are you scowling at Mrs. Neighbour?” moments of my childhood!

              The grownups were talking about grownup stuff that I was too little to understand, so I started thinking about something important like Smurfs or She-Ra or how I can get my hands on some candy. Then my facial expression reflected my train of thought, which had absolutely nothing to do with Mrs. Neighbour because I couldn’t even understand the words Mrs. Neighbour was saying.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This is the problem OP is facing. People figure the facial expression is following her thoughts. It could just be she forgot to thaw something for dinner. But lacking any other cues people decide that the issue is much closer and probably involves them.

        3. MayLou*

          I sometimes have this issue (less so now I’m an adult but I can remember a few pretty significant situations when I was a teenager) and I think it’s because I have had to learn, semi-subconsicously, how to performatively express emotions. I vividly recall hearing, when I was a child, someone referring to my brother and I as “the happy Lou siblings” in a very sarcastic tone, and other people asking why I never smiled. There were two answers: one was that actually I didn’t have a particularly happy childhood, and perhaps someone could have considered the fact that I had legitimate things to be unhappy about… and the other was that I just didn’t show my feelings on my face very much.

          So I made a conscious effort to be more visibly emotional. I knew it was working a couple of years later when a peer said something about how I was always laughing and smiling about things. It backfired once when I was listening to a friend tell a long and involved story about something, and I was acting out good-listening-faces while not really concentrating. I made a mistake and got the wrong facial expression (looked shocked when I should have looked sympathetic, I believe) and she was hurt. I felt bad because if I’d been focusing on listening instead of *looking like I was* listening, I’d have got it right.

          Basically for some people this stuff comes less naturally than for others, for different reasons. In high-stress situations, or when there are lots of other demands on my attention (cf. job interviews! Dear God the eye contact, am I making enough eye contact? Should I look at the other interviewer’s eyes now? Argh what was the question that was asked while I was trying not to get the eye contact wrong?), some of my “socially competent adult performing at competent social adulting” skills slip by the wayside. One of my fellow neurodiverse friends refers to this as being a bit autisty.

          Tl;dr: for those of us for whom facial expressions can be something of a learned chore, the likelihood of it going too far in the other direction is fairly high. Sometimes what my face is saying I’m feeling isn’t actually what I’m feeling, but an easily-accessed expression of something I have felt in the past.

          1. MayLou*

            For clarity, both the friend and I are autistic – “being a bit autisty” is her way of noting that an autism-related behaviour is occurring. It’s not intended as a slur or used in the way that some people talk about how they’re a bit OCD because they like to keep things tidy.

          2. JSPA*

            I’ve noticed that when I’m countering “resting smile face” for the sake of a sad or distressing story (let’s say, a sad or distressing story that I’m not actually deeply invested in, or I’m hearing it for the n-th time, so there’s no actual negative shock involved), all kinds of odd things happen.

          3. Anax*

            Yeah, I’m autistic and this sounds quite a lot like my experience.

            I can understand about an emoji’s level of complexity in facial expressions – but there’s a big difference between a delighted smile, a motherly smile, and a pained smile, and those differences are completely lost on me. Unfortunately, that’s true of my own expressions too – I emote pretty much unconsciously, and sometimes the nuances or intensity are off, and I have no real way to know.

            (This is very anxiety-inducing, of course! I don’t think I could ever take on a managerial role because of it; I’m always worried about what I’m missing, particularly when people are trying to be kind and send ‘subtle’ signals.)

        4. your favorite person*

          For me, my eyebrows are EXPRESSIVE. Usually, it’s in a good way- I’m generally happy and I seem interested in you when we talk. I think doing drama in school taught me to over-exaggerate my face so people could see how I was feeling. However, the only piece of negative feedback I’ve ever received for my boss, after 7 years, was I need to keep my facial expressions in check, especially in board meetings. It was ok when I was in agreement (nodding, smiling, eye contact) but it then became apparent when I wasn’t (looking down, narrowing my eyes, slight frowns,etc.). Since then I have worked on two things: keeping neutral faced when someone else is talking and since we now do a lot of video conferencing, keeping an eye on my face when others talk so I can monitor my expressions! I haven’t gotten that feedback in a couple years now because I think I have it mostly under control.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            oh, god, the eyebrows. I can keep 90% of my face under control with no problems, but the eyebrows have minds of their own if I’m not scrupulously careful. And they move independently of each other too. Which I guess is unusual? Most folks can reliably raise/lower one or the other, but not both? But when my husband comes up with some crazy ideas, he has occasionally paused, and then said something like “I’ve never seen someone’s eyebrows move in opposite directions at the same time.” And when I’m thinking really hard, I actually waggle them both up and down alternating, which I guess is both weird and occasionally distracting.

          2. Classic Rando*

            Hahaha, this reminded me of the episode of Nailed It where one of the contestants was a Juilliard-trained professional dancer, and any time they showed him while someone else was talking, he did like 3 facial expressions per sentence. He was basically “stage listening” all the time.

            I was a weird kid, and eavesdropping was a weird hobby of mine, so I trained my face to not react at an early age. It’s great for people watching, I found the trick is to not actively think a sentence in response to what you’re hearing. So, if someone says something really dumb, I don’t say “that was really dumb” in my head, I just let the moment pass and then there’s no active reaction that needs to be suppressed.

        5. Super Dee Duper Anon*

          I’m another person with an emotive face with a mind of its own. For me, my face generally reflects my current feelings and probably the intensity level as well, but its such an unconscious thing that sometimes what’s coming across is different than how my conscious mind handles it (if that makes sense). Like if my colleagues does something minorly annoying, but they do it constantly, my face might show level 8 annoyance, however if I were to talk about the situation I’d describe it as level 3 annoyance because consciously I realize that level 8 is not appropriate and sort of talk myself down nearly instantly.

          The other thing I’ve run into is that a lot of times people misinterpret my expression (or my expression of certain feelings looks more like the standard version of a different feeling I guess). When I’m really angry or upset about something like I want to break or burn things angry (and I’m not consciously toning it, because I have learned how to do it), apparently most people think I look very sad, or upset, but in a very sorrowful/distraught way.

          I feel for the OP, because it does feel daunting to try to work on an unconscious 24/7 habit. If you told me I needed to be consciously aware of my facial expressions 40 hours a week I’d probably feel like I’m not capable of it. What I did was start identifying the situations where my facial expression would most likely be a problem within those 40 hours. Anytime I’m in a meeting I know I need to be conscious of my facial expression, but when I’m sitting at my desk typing away I drop it. Then I just kept adding stuff to that list or adding specific triggers for my face mask. Anytime I think to myself “ugh”, I then think “face check” and relax my face. As soon as a button pushing coworker calls my name I think “face check”. It’s gotten to the point that anytime I start feeling any sort of annoyance or anger at work (or in certain social situations) I automatically relax my face, which acts as the reminder to start paying attention.

          1. Washi*

            This is so interesting, thank you everyone! It sounds almost like for some people their face muscles are tied to their emotions in a way that other people’s aren’t. Like how some people can do that Star Trek sign with their fingers and some people can’t.

            For me, my feelings and my face kind of move independently like hands on a piano – the left hand is playing “omg this is the stupidest idea, please get me out of this meeting” and the right hand is playing “please help me understand your idea because I am a little bit confused.”

        6. JSPA*

          It often reflects something, but not necessarily a personal interaction. There’s a reason people used to refer to expressions as “dyspeptic” or “sour” or “jaundiced” or “bilious.” Before good mirrors were common, before cameras, before people had an external means to monitor their expressions, people’s faces said a lot about EVERYTHING going through their heads…and their bodies.

          1. nnn*

            Oh, that’s interesting! I wonder if people were socially expected to modulate their facial expressions in that era?

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I grew up in the 60s and I had a lot of expectations placed on me about my facial expressions. In certain instances the wrong facial expression could double my trouble. I learned lots about control.
              Then one day I decided “screw it”. I got an attitude and the facial expressions. I had to relearn (not a big step) to control my face more often.

              I do think there was more controls (good and bad) in place then. I have a friend who talks about certain people in church staring at late comers, loud children, sneezers, coughers and so on. That stare sent a silent judgmental statement to anyone who could see it.

              Facial expressions were used much more as a form of moderating actions in public areas.
              I sit in a restaurant now and marvel that NO ONE glares at the parent of a screaming child (at least in my area of the country). This is such an improvement. Parents don’t need that crap.

              I don’t think people are as good at reading faces as they used to be. If they are not inaccurate, then they can totally miss a cue. I had a coworker arrive at work with all the blood drained out of his face, he was PALE. I asked if he was alright. He said I was the only one who asked. He had hit a pet on the way to work and was totally shook. So we chatted for a bit.

            2. JSPA*

              If you look at old photos (19th century)–
              Even with the highly posed pictures of, say, Felix Nadar, where people are clearly “curating” their image, the range of faces and expressions is just staggering, to a modern audience.

              Also, the older character actors in films from the 1920’s and early 1930’s (who would have grown up before cameras were common) just seem to have more expressions overall, than slightly more younger / more recent character actors (despite, in both cases, most of them having come to the screen by way of theater).

              Same for (for want of a better term) newly-contacted peoples, at any point in history, since then.

              I have to think it’s all related?

            3. JSPA*

              Theater has existed for a very long time, so the idea of intentionally portraying an emotion through modulting their expressions was understood, but the idea that you’d present something non-authentic was often treated as a little morally – suspect / mendacious. I take it that the ideal goal was to actually HAVE pleasant thoughts, so as to have a pleasant expression on one’s pleasant features. I…have to assume as many people were told “not to pout” or to “give us a pretty smile” then, as now, though?

    4. londonedit*

      I had a boss who, whenever anyone was explaining or presenting anything to her, would screw her face up and look intently at whoever was speaking. We’d always warn new people that it was usually just her ‘thinking/paying attention face’, because it looked for all the world like she thought you were the biggest idiot she’d ever had the misfortune to listen to. Even knowing that it was probably ‘just Jane doing her thinking face’, because she was generally a bit of a difficult person to work with there was always that ‘She thinks I’m an idiot, doesn’t she, God she thinks I’m talking total rubbish…’ worry, which isn’t exactly great when you’re a junior member of staff trying to present something in a meeting.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        When I was in India for a few months, I quickly got used to the typical head bobble/wag that means “anything but no.” It only tripped me up once – I was talking to a few people at a table, and one woman whom I’d just met stared at me with a furrowed brow and slowly shook her head no as I talked. I totally lost my train of thought and faltered to a stop before I realized that was just how her head bobble/wag manifested. It totally looked like she was silently warning me away from the topic at hand. Such variety in a single expression!

    5. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      It’s like those “try not to laugh” challenges (they’re ridiculous in my opinion but I can’t think of a better parallel). If you see something you find funny, it’s going to take more brianpower to not laugh at it than it will to laugh at it. It’s just an involuntary response.

      Or like when anybody breaks on SNL and by the end, everyone is laughing even though they desperately want to remain neutral. They just physically cannot.

    6. Sylvan*

      I just don’t naturally pay attention to my facial expression. I’m paying more attention to the other person’s body language, what they’re saying, how I might respond, etc.

      I’m definitely able to get better at it, but it hasn’t always been one of those unthinking habits.

    7. pcake*

      How do you know you keep your face the same? Several people who I’m close with truly believed they kept their face the same at times when I could clearly see they didn’t. Two considered themselves ninjas of the poker face.

      1. OscarJeff*

        Yes, this is me. I truly didn’t know my face showed reaction to, say, speakers in a meeting until a director told a story about it during my farewell lunch when I was leaving a previous job. (Luckily framed in a flattering way.) The sad part is that now I actively concentrate on maintaining a passive, neutral expression, and yet have still been told my face shows reaction. It’s incredibly frustrating.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is funny. I was helping my friend get her license. I thought I did a good job of controlling my face and my words as we drove around. We did this for a while. Then one day she said, “I can always tell when I am not doing good. Your breathing changes.”
        We all do something that tips others off.
        I never said anything because she was doing well, I just had a momentary concern. It was more about me than it was about her.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m fascinated with the idea that someone cannot control their eye rolls.

      How did you make it through school outside of detention and did your parents not demand you show them respect even when they were being you know, unreasonable in your mind? *_*

      1. LW1111*

        I have totally been told that I roll my eyes with no knowledge I was doing it. It’s awful. I actually think it’s an issue with my eyes, not an emotional thing at all. I basically have to focus on staring to counteract it, which makes me uncomfortable.

        1. Natalie*

          That doesn’t seem to be inconsistent with it being an unconscious habit, including having to focus in order to counteract it. Have you ever practiced counteracting it for a while, to see if it gets easier as that becomes more of a habit?

        2. Janie*

          I got accused of rolling my eyes once in school when all I did was look down, and vehemently protested it.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        This was me and yea, got yelled at a lot about it growing up.

        One thing that was challenging for me as a kid/teen was understanding that what qualified as rolling your eyes by someone looking at me varied very differently from what I considered to be rolling your eyes. I thought a full “head moves around, eyes loop in an exaggerated fashion” was rolling your eyes – you know, something you have to put real effort and thought into doing. I clearly didn’t do that, why are you mad at me?!

        But eye rolling can be a really subtle upward eye movement that happens in an instant – like when you’re looking straight ahead and your eyes dart away momentarily but you’re back to what you’re focusing on in less than a blink. That feels like nothing to you, but it’s super noticeable to someone looking at you.

        Granted, there are many levels in between subtly-glances-upwards-in-frustration and Liz Lemon eye rolls, but I can see how one might “get away” with the first one and it slowly devolves to the second. It definitely takes effort to put a pause in between feelings and facial reactions, but it is doable. Not gonna lie, it can feel soul sucking in the beginning, but it’s kinda the price of admission for forming relationships, and I found it to be very worth it.

        “I can’t control my eyes” is an excuse that didn’t help me out in junior high, and it probably won’t fly for someone in an office job. It’s hard, but doable!

      3. Renthead*

        I sense a lack of sincerity in your question, but I’ll answer it anyway. For me, it was my ADHD. An extremely common symptom of this disorder is difficulty with accurate self-observation and self-monitoring. I can’t tell you how many times before recieving treatment that I tried and failed socially because I simply could not gain control of how I was presenting myself. It wasn’t because I was flippant or entitled- I literally DID NOT REALIZE what I was doing.

        1. twig*

          ohmygod thankyou for this!! (Diagnosed ADHD at 41 (last year) and am slowly catching up to all that it affects)

          I’ve recently been on the receiving end of a lecture from my supervisor about “getting snippy in meetings.”

          I didn’t even realize it — the examples she gave me — I didn’t know it was coming off that way. One of them, I had no clue, I wasn’t annoyed or anything — just trying to get clarification real quick for the minutes I was taking.

          I’ve since realized that I don’t always even know that I’m experiencing emotions (especially negative ones). I’ve been trying to figure out how to be more present? or something? (I don’t quite have a name for what I need to fix, so I’m still struggling to figure out how to fix it)

          It probably doesn’t help that my “concentration face” looks grouchy…

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            …I really struggle with not recognizing when I’m experiencing negative emotions, your description of trying to figure out how to be more present with it really strikes home with me. I’ve never heard someone else say they experience that too, is that a common marker of ADHD? This is a genuine question – I’ve always assumed that this was just a side-effect/manifestation/exploration of the “everything is fine because it has to be fine” attitude I had ingrained into me growing up that I’m trying to work out as an adult.

            1. Tau*

              The keyword you may be looking for here is alexithymia, which is a difficulty naming one’s emotions (although be warned, the descriptions of it can be fairly insulting). I don’t know about ADHD, but it’s definitely a thing in autism and is generally one of the banes of my life.

              1. A Simple Narwhal*

                You were not kidding about the insulting descriptions!

                I definitely don’t experience it to the degree or frequency that the internet defines, but it’s comforting to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles with these things. It would be so much nicer to recognize in the moment “hmm I’m in a weird funk right now, I should probably take a breather to think about what’s stressing me out/frustrating me/making me upset”, but hey, that’s what therapy is for!

                1. Tau*

                  Yeah, somehow all the articles on this pick some really extreme case study or make it out like alexithymia = robot. But then they go on to note that 5-10% of the population falls on the alexithymia spectrum aaaand I think we’d have noticed if that many people were walking around acting as if they’d just landed in a spaceship. I like to think I come off as fairly normal and friendly, but I have the problems you describe, have alexithymia mentioned in my diagnosis papers and also have the weird secondary symptom (really, really boring dreams) in spades.

                  Will leave it here in order not to derail (hope this isn’t too much already, Alison!) but if you or anyone else wants to talk about this more on the weekend thread I’d be up for it.

          2. Renthead*

            I SO hear you. I can’t count how many times others have sensed and responded to aggravation that even I wasn’t aware I was experiencing. I used to argue with people that I wasn’t actually upset, and then I started to wonder if maybe they were right and I was just experiencing a complete disconnect from my emotions. The wearing away of my confidence in my own perceptions was so demoralizing. It makes you feel completely out of control and disoriented.

            Honestly, medication has been the biggest game changer for me. It’s allowed me to benefit from things like mindfulness, therapy, and coaching from professionals and loved ones to relearn appropriate social skills. Without my meds I always end up failing because my mind is like this wild horse that I just cannot reign in. I’m still figuring things out (things that have always naturally seemed “obvious” to most people) but I do have hope now, and I am improving. I don’t know what the answer is for you, but don’t be afraid to seek out any outside help you might need. This can really interfere with your life, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Things can get better though!

          3. LJay*

            I’ve experienced this as well.

            I used to think, “I don’t get stressed out ever”.

            I’ve since learned that while I don’t feel “stressed out”, my behaviors and reactions differ in situations when I am under stress. So I am getting stressed out, I just don’t feel it/realize that I am experiencing it.

      4. SS Express*

        I can raise just my left eyebrow, like in a suggestive/flirty gesture, but it’s completely involuntary. I literally cannot do it on command – I’ve tried and just end up making weird faces. But it pops up of its own accord if I’m being fliratious or, awkwardly, if I’m thinking flirty/dirty thoughts. So I can see how other people’s faces might have other quirks like this.

    9. JSPA*

      I think it’s how some people read letters, some read whole words, and some read whole sentences. Or how some people can visualize details exquisitely, but have no mind’s eye for the larger picture, while others are the opposite, and some have no mind’s eye at all (they have the abstract idea of an object, but can’t close their eyes and visualize an example). Or how face blind people see eyes, a nose, and a mouth on a head, but don’t consistently (or, ever) succeed in integrating that into a face, while others recognize a few dozen faces, and some people recognize everyone they’ve ever met, even 50 years later. Even without pathology or damage, some people find the act of balancing on one foot automatic and can use very little muscle action to maintain balance; others manage a vague approximation with considerably more attention and numerous corrections; and some stumble through the day even on two feet. That’s to say, if you don’t (by adulthood) have some natural self-awareness of what your facial features are doing and some sense of control, it may or may not be something you can develop further. This isn’t someone saying, “take me as I am, I’m perfect.” This is someone who’s tried to develop awareness and control, and it’s been a huge effort with significant associated psychological costs.

    10. Blunt Bunny*

      My neutral face is resting bitch face. It used to be a smile before working in retail changed it to RBF and I could no longer hold a smile for long periods of time. I used to comments like “why are you smiling” “she’s always smiling” “stop smiling you will get wrinkles”. So honestly you can’t win if someone has a problem with my face it’s their problem not mine. If there if something is wrong you speak to them.

    11. Alana*

      I have this problem, and, interestingly, so does my boss! For me it’s a struggle with impulse control combined with a general lack of body awareness. I’m a pretty sensitive and emotional person in general on both sides of the spectrum — if I am really happy, or anxious, or mad, it’s hard for me to hide it. I have a very expressive face (smile a lot, eyebrows up and down, gesticulat). And I don’t have a great verbal filter. So a facial expression is sort of the less conscious equivalent of blurting something out. I also am not great at being aware of what my body is doing; it’ll often take me a bit to realize that I’ve started slouching, or that I’m breathing very shallowly, or that I am making a face.

      I have ADHD, which is a contributing factor to all of the above. Medication generally makes it easier for me to remember to try to pay attention to my face, but it doesn’t make me automatically stop doing it.

      I can keep up a poker face when I have to, but it takes a lot of attention, especially because I emote with parts of my face I don’t even think about; I can put a lot of energy into controlling my mouth and eyes, but don’t even think about my eyebrows or the way I’m holding my head.

  9. drpuma*

    Instead of trying to changing your face, I wonder if it’s possible to kind of mentally reprogram your reactions so you change your emotions? So that if Lola (or anyone) says something you disagree with, your reaction is to feel surprised or curiously concerned, or some other less negative / more neutral emotions, so *those* will be the feelings that display on your face? You say you’ve worked really hard and failed at not showing your emotions on your face. Maybe the next step is to try changing your emotional response instead? Reframe your internal narrative, as it were.

    1. Morning Flowers*

      This is the approach that’s worked for me! I find it impossibly exhausting to control or hide my expression for more than the length of, say, a difficult meeting or doctor’s appointment; but I’ve had much better success mentally retraining myself to address the causes of the expressions that I need to control or hide. A sort of “replacement method” if you will — things that would make me look impatient, angry, or annoyed, the first step is to teach myself to look at that thing from another perspective (“you know, I should focus on how this affects Wakeen and be more patient with him”). Focusing on moderating my feelings made moderating my expressions happen virtually by itself. (And I second the cognitive behavioral therapy, or honestly just a good therapist who can help you build the toolbox you’ll need to do all this mental reframing.)

      The good news is, with this approach, I became a much happier and less stressed person basically as a side effect of trying to be nicer with my face. So it’s crushingly hard, but really it’s win-win if you can mange it!

    2. LadyofLasers*

      Yeah, my take away from the LW was that they default to a pretty dismissive emotional response to their coworkers, and that the facial expressions are secondary. It might be worth trying to go into interaction with a sense of curiosity and an attitude that everyone has something valid to offer, so it’s at least worth considering their opinion before arguing your own position. When people feel respected, that goes a long way to make them feel warmer to you and easier to work with.

    3. Flinty*

      I was thinking this as well. Like I wonder if there are underlying attitudes and insecurities at work that are getting in the way of the OP having less intense reactions to things.

      For example, I have some perfectionist tendencies and often hold myself and others to unrealistically high standards as a way of controlling the environment around me and my own fear that I won’t measure up. This resulted in me feeling unnecessarily angry at other people for not doing things the way I felt they should be done. I’ve done a lot of work on this tendency, and in realizing this pattern and relaxing my standards a bit, I find that my coworkers make me a lot less angry. There’s not much of a need to hide my emotions, because even egregious incompetence from a coworker doesn’t feel personal – people are always going to make mistakes and there will always be that one person who rubs you the wrong way, but it’s just another thing to deal with.

      1. Lulubell*

        Ah, this is me with perfectionist tendencies rooted in my own insecurities, that results in near-rage sometimes that has absolutely affected my work. Please tell me what you did to overcome the feeling so angry. I am usually able to control my outward response, but the simmering spiral I feel underneath for days has me understanding this is not great for my career happiness over the long haul.

    4. atalanta0jess*

      Yes!! I just listened to a very frustrating parenting podcast that talked about this. Very roughly paraphrased, it said “It’s bad for you to have X emotional reaction towards your child, but it’s also bad to try to hide it (because THEY’LL KNOW). So what do you do? Shift your perspective.”

      It is frustrating because it’s not an easy solution. Like, please just tell me the words I can say to my child so that I can avoid any emotional work, and just fix the problem with my words! Please! But alas…

      The good news is, I think this kind of work can have immense benefits in a number of realms…for you and for others. It’s just not easy.

    5. Marthooh*

      This is very much what I thought when I read: “I even decided being an open book could have its good points — I can’t play games, so everyone knows exactly where I stand.”

      Because, yes, it’s great that people know where you stand — as long as you’re standing in a good place! If you aren’t willing to listen, to give some thought to other people’s points of view, and some consideration to their problems, then you’re a closed door, not an open book.

      1. ComeOn!*

        This! My partner is not good at “hiding his feelings” but at times this simply means he is lacking empathy. Mindful censoring of ourselves can be excellent social grease — and increase productivity at work, and intimacy in communities. It is a vital social skill and I encourage OP to re-take on this challenge. And yes, over-censoring ourselves is a different problem — and one tackled in different posts!

    6. NKOTB*

      Totally agree! OP – I feel for you. Some people (myself included) are just not good at masking their emotional reactions, so the solution is to change your attitude towards this person even if that’s challenging. I have to do this with my parents. I find them to be so ignorant and frustrating sometimes I roll my eyes and exhale loudly in their presence without even realizing.

    7. Manders*

      This is what I was going to suggest! If you’re regularly aggravated at work to the point that you’re pulling a face or rolling your eyes without thinking about it, maybe part of the problem is that the emotions you’re feeling are more intense than they need to be.

    8. Ra94*

      This was my thought, as well. Part of the issue seems to be OP letting her emotions show through so openly, but it also seems out of the ordinary to me that she’s constantly getting annoyed enough to roll her eyes and ‘get short’ with Lola (which sounds verbal rather than facial, anyways). Either there’s a genuine issue to be worked out with Lola, or OP might benefit from learning to regulate the underlying emotions themselves. Obviously, she needs to be able to deal with genuinely annoying situations and people without seeming rude, too, but it seems like a lot of strong feelings going on.

    9. hbc*

      Joining the chorus to agree with this. When it comes down to it, at least half the problem *is* the emotional reaction, not whether it’s properly masked.

      OP, when Lisa shared that you had been observed rolling your eyes, your mental state went straight to “That’s not true, I don’t recall doing it so it couldn’t have happened, you’re wrong!” Whether you put on a poker face or not, that’s a problem, in general but especially for a manager. If you can reframe information coming in as “This is a report about someone else’s perception” rather than “This is a tangible fact to accept or refute,” then maybe you can approach such feedback with an open mind and come to a mutual understanding.

      And really, claiming that you don’t roll your eyes is about as solid as claiming you don’t snore–other people probably have more evidence than you do.

      1. Sal*

        Yes, this struck me as well. I don’t think it’s wise to be this adversarial with your supervisor. (Whether or not they’re right on the specifics.) Probably, you shouldn’t have conversational moments where you’re jumping in to contradict your boss. If you’ve got to contradict your boss, I think you’ve got to wait til they’re done talking in order for it not to come across the way it apparently did. Everything up til then should just be your listening face (may I suggest a slight head tilt with an open, questioning look in your eyes?).

        Honestly I think cultivating an attitude of humility could also be helpful? When you’ve got humility, you’re more open to what other people are saying, and less likely to feel (and then look) dismissive.

    10. CheeryO*

      Yes, absolutely this. This is a problem to be solved in therapy, not by training in the mirror!

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think it has to be an either/or, though. As with anything physical, you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing when you’re doing it, and it can be helpful to have a clearer idea.

    11. Fieldpoppy*

      This is where I was going reading this letter. It’s less about “I feel irritated and I’m trying not to show it!” and more about learning to not be irritated. It’s basically learning not to be so reactive.

      For me this took a combination of mindfulness, meditation, age and experience, and learning to think a little bit more about the big picture/context/multiple perspectives — i.e., this moment is a moment in time, Lisa is overall a human being with feelings, my reaction is one of many I will have today and I don’t need to treat it as truth.

      My job is to not react to moments like this but to try to knit them together into a more coherent story (facilitating strategic change), and it takes a lot of seasoning to learn to not react. But over time, it’s one of the most important aspects of being a good leader. Listening without reacting.

    12. LQ*

      Yup! This is what’s worked for me. I have a very expressive face and it just emotes on it’s own without any kind of direction from me.

      Can’t control my face. Can have more compassion, understanding, and a reframed perspective on the people I despise at work. It takes work, don’t get me wrong. But for me it was way easier and more effective than fixin my face.

      I do think people can tell the difference between my, “I think you’re trying your best but that idea isn’t the best you can do lets work to refine it” and “I think you’re great, but that idea is horseshit and you know it” and “I appreciate the thought you put into that can you walk me through what you’re saying” faces. None of them say “you are bad” or make people afraid to approach me. And when I’m going into a meeting with someone who I get annoyed with I spend some time reminding myself of the framing, they care about the work they are doing and so we are after the same goal, or they have a lot going on in their personal life and I would like to show compassion, or whatever that is for me for them.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I agree that compassion is a big part of becoming less reactive — if I spend time reminding myself that people are trying their best and that we are all ultimately after the same goal, it makes a difference.

        I had a call today with some new clients where it was clear that no one had done any of the tasks that we had agreed to and the leads hadn’t even looked at the project plan. I could have been super-irritated about whether they actually care about the project, but I reminded myself that they are super busy, this is one of literally dozens of projects they are working on, and it’s my job to remind them of its importance in the times we’ve set aside for that. I got a lot more patient.

    13. InfoSec SemiPro*


      I have a very readable face. Very. Very Readable. My emotions are basically understandable by anyone with a teaspoon of practice with those flashcards you use to teach kids empathy.

      Which means that my emotions in the room need to be appropriate. I can’t be annoyed, or I’ll look annoyed and nothing ever goes well when other people know you’re annoyed with their work. I cannot be angry or dismissive. I can be concerned. I can be confused. I can have questions I’m dying to ask. I can be hopeful. I can be waiting to hear what risks I’m sure they have considered and are about to tell me their plans for.

      For me the trick is staying engaged. Fully, deeply engaged with the people I’m with and their goals and problems. Because when you’re immersing yourself in someone else’s world/issues/tools/needs, that empathy and sympathy is way more productive than walling yourself off and being dismissive (which is where you get eye rolling and other unacceptable faces.) Being engaged means that you can be confused when things don’t line up, but you’re not angry. You can be concerned, but its concern aligned with their goals, so it gets seen as being on their side rather than adversarial.

      It means I may have to be more “on” at work than someone who is better at controlling what their face reveals, but if face control is something you pretty much can’t do, getting your mind into a place where your emotions are appropriate for the space is useful.

      1. Alana*

        I have this problem too and this is a really helpful way to think about it. It makes me realize that I’ve been saved by generally being a positive and upbeat person, at least externally, and being pretty nonconfrontational in general. So it’s way more likely that if my coworkers can read my face, they’re seeing something that isn’t going to set them off — excitement or happiness, or “sure why not,” or at worst, concern or disappointment.

        I also try really hard to make sure the things that are a little easier for me to control — overall body language and verbal response — are appropriate to the situation. I may just not be aware of what my eyebrows are doing at any time, but if my mouth is saying, “Sure, I understand. Should we check back in next week, then?” instead of “Really, it’s going to take another week? [heavy sigh]” I hope that mitigates it somewhat.

    14. lulu*

      Exactly. You’re sitting there actively despising Lola and thinking she’s the worst, and that shows on your face. Instead you should try to think about how to have this interaction be helpful to you and your work, what can I get out of this exchange, how to make it constructive. A shift in perspective, not just trying to hide your emotions.

  10. dramalama*

    I’ve had friends make fun of me for making ‘um-hm’ noises when I’m thinking or reading, and honestly there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to regulate noises or expressions that are completely unconscious. One thing I try to do is to have an expression or noises I can make *consciously* instead, ones that I’ve practiced and know how I look doing them, that I can pull out when I’m thinking hard.

    …Of course the downside is sometimes I’m working so hard on my “listening face” that I don’t retain a damn thing the person I’m talking to said.

    1. wafflesfriendswork*

      I am *constantly* worried people think I’m not listening to them (part of this is probably from my ADHD, which means it really is an effort to pay attention to a long conversation sometimes) that at some point I started nodding a lot and saying “mhm” or trying to have a very pleasant resting face that seems engaged. I didn’t realize I did this until I went on a ghost tour with some friends and one of my friends pointed out that I seemed overly engaged and interested in everything the guide had to say! (I WAS interested, but at least some of the verbal and nonverbal tics I’ve developed are borne out of years of overcompensation for my inattentiveness)

    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Amen on the last point. Back at ToxicJob, my manager was all over me about my disrespectful way of walking and my expressions (some was legit, because I do have a glass face and hated the job by that point, but apparently looking upward when you think about something is super disrespectful – who knew?). I was marking time until I could resign, so to placate my manager I maintained an expression with a vague half-smile while in meetings with her. Basically I pretended I’d had a glass of wine. I also pretended I was balancing a book on my head whenever I walked anywhere so as to avoid the disrespectful way of walking. I don’t remember much of what I worked on in those last few months as I was so busy pretending to be tipsy and/or balancing a book on my head.

      Now I work from home and never have to worry about my glass face except for the one or two times a year I do a Skype/Zoom call. It’s bliss.

        1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          Apparently I tilted my head when I walked. I thought at the time it may have been an issue with my bifocals/distance vision, but if I tried to mention this to my manager, I was being “defensive.” She and I didn’t communicate well.

          1. Jan*

            If she had to pick on something minor like your walk to make a case against you, she never had a case against you in the first place. Glad you got away from her.

  11. shergak*

    I’m thinking that there is a difference between being an open book emotionally, vs. the whole rolling your eyes or shaking your head part of it. The latter is an action you have to commit to and should be easier to control moving forward. It might be unconscious on the letter writer’s part, but it’s something that can be worked on more easily than having emotions showing on your face.

    I believe that if the letter writer can separate her emotions vs. her reactions to people as a result of said emotions, it might be easier to control.

    1. guzee*

      This was my problem when I worked for a difficult manager. When she got hostile or accusatory to me, I would stay calm and polite but my face would turn red. She would then claim that I was getting upset and reacting badly. My face was an open book- an indicator that I was under stress and didn’t like what I was hearing- but my actual reaction was to remain professional. It’s important to discern unconscious reaction and deliberate action.

  12. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I don’t know – does this sound to anyone else like girl-gang bullying? Like three girls ganging up on another one to alternately concern troll her and tell her “nobody likes your face.”

    I get that you can’t roll your eyes at someone, but it’s also the case that sometimes people don’t mesh well together. Rather than working that out, Lola tried to get the OP red-carded by falling down, clutching her leg, and putting on a show for the refs.

    I’m just saying, the day there is a meeting with a male manager about “modulating your facial expressions” will be a day I’m anxious to see…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In my experience, taking issue with eye rolling is not a gendered issue. Eye rolling is widely considered contemptuous and disrespectful, from both men and women. You’re of course right that similar stuff can be gendered (“smile!” “look happier!” “don’t assert yourself!”) but that doesn’t sound like the situation here. The OP acknowledges she’s doing this.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I thought that Lisa accused the OP of eye rolling, but the OP does not remember having done this. She definitely admits that her emotions show on her face, but I’m kind of doubtful about the eye-rolling.

        There is just some overall fishiness and a streak of petty meanness in the way the management handled this. The OP also writes like someone who’s being gaslighted. I feel like the OP should get an outside opinion on what her face is doing rather than trusting this bunch.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She says Lola was right and she handled the incident badly, and she says that this has been a long-running problem for her throughout her life that she’s aware of, and that she’s determined she can’t help visibly expressing emotions with her face. It doesn’t sound like anyone is gaslighting her; it sounds like they’re echoing something she has long acknowledged about herself.

          It would be different if she’d said “I’m baffled by this because I think I control my emotions really well and have never heard this before.” She’s saying “I know this is a problem, it’s been a problem for years, and I’ve tried to control it without success.”

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I have personally known so many people (male and female) who respond unconsciously and then vehemently deny that they respond the way we all just saw them respond, that I find it very plausible that the OP could be eye-rolling without being aware of it.

          1. ursula*

            I have two coworkers who do this. Does anyone have a script they can suggest for when someone does this in a group meeting? I keep getting stuck in situations where we aren’t 1-on-1 (where I would feel more comfortable, as not-their-supervisor, addressing the behaviour directly) and being unsure how to react.

            1. Canonical23*

              (politely) call them out in the group meeting, i.e. “Jane, do you have any concerns about x?” They’ll either a) be surprised, say no and try to move things along or b) voice their frustrations/concerns, which you can use in a much more productive way instead of their facial expressions. It takes some courage, and an ability to ask the question neutrally, rather than hostilely, but in my experience the behavior offender will start to dial down because they don’t like the spotlight.

              1. ursula*

                This approach makes a lot of sense. For one of the two people I am dealing with, they are also very vocal about what they don’t like, which means typically we all already know they aren’t happy, so it gets tough. I guess this is something I need to leave to their supervisor (who, as you can probably guess, is a little hands-off) unless it’s aimed at me directly.

          2. hbc*

            Actual conversation I had with a peer:

            Him: “I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just saying that you….”

            Me, interrupting: “You are literally, physically pointing your finger at me right now.”

          3. Someone Else*

            The other thing that comes to mind (but which I don’t think actually changes the answer given the other stuff) is I’ve occasionally encountered some people who describe “the look on your face was visibly displease” with “eye rolling”. It’s a sort of frustrating thing to encounter because one is generally reasonable while the other is openly contemptuous. But I’ve been asked to corroborate something before where one person accused another of eye rolling, I confirmed I saw no eye rolling, the person had no recollection of eye rolling, and it came out later (when the initial person said “see, doing it again!”) in front of the managers who’d been inquiring. So they saw for themselves, and basically… the managers, the accused and I all agreed there was no eye rolling. But the upset person was taking an outward appearance of displeasure as equivalent to eye rolling. She was just as upset and interpreted the facial expression in question as equally contemptuous. So it was kind of weird and awkward all around where the look she was getting wasn’t great but it also wasn’t completely inappropriate.
            So, that might be a factor, but the answer is still “be more in control of one’s facial expressions”.

        3. Samwise*

          I’m completely NOT doubtful of the eye-rolling. OP may very well be doing it totally unawares. This is just from my experience of dealing with late adolescents for the last 40 years, but people truly do things with their faces that they are not aware of. (Generally when I point these behaviors out to the kids, they’re embarrassed and want to stop doing it.)

          Did Lisa or Kate handle this well? Maybe not, but it does sound like something that the OP needs to address and that’s the part OP should focus on.

          I have serious RBF and continuously have to work at keeping inappropriate-at-work emotions off my face (not always successful), so I’m genuinely sympathetic to the OP. It’s very hard, but if you want to do it, you can certainly stop (or mostly stop) the eye-rolling, head-shaking, sighing…whatever the inappropriate behavior is.

          1. Forrest*

            There’s also not full-on Jessica-Jones-GIF eyerolling, but eyebrow-raising, eye-widening, glancing-t0-the-side, which is really pretty easy to do without noticing. And “I wasn’t *rolling* my eyes, just making an exasperated, raised-eyebrow face!” is not a *great* defence.

            (GIF search for “kardashian eye-roll” has some great examples of this.)

        4. Observer*

          In addition to what the others said, it’s worth noting that the OP actually shook her head at her MANAGER while her manager was talking to her. That’s pretty bad. And it totally lends credence to the idea that she’s rolling her eyes at people.

          Put that together with her own description of her behavior, and there is no credible way to claim that her boss is gaslighting her, or being excessively “mean”.

          Her boss is asking for nothing more than reasonable behavior, and HR is willing to try to help her. She needs to accept that she needs to do the work.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Shaking one’s head is a pretty comment response when being accused of doing something. I wouldn’t read so much into it. Let alone italicize and all-caps it.

            1. fposte*

              Common or no, this isn’t an accusation; it’s managerial feedback. People really need to be able to accept managerial feedback without visibly shaking it off.

            2. Observer*

              Common? Maybe. But it should be a total no brainer that you do NOT do that to your boss!

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I don’t see it as so black-and-white. And there certainly isn’t enough information in the letter to make such sweeping statements about the OP.

                1. Flinty*

                  Yeah, if my boss said I did X that I didn’t think I had been doing, I can imagine doing a surprised head shake to indicate that I was alarmed and understood the seriousness of X. My guess is that’s a pretty common response.

            3. Batgirl*

              Noooo, the OP used a head shake before boss was finished talking while getting feedback that her body language is negative at the wrong times.

              I mean, yeah it’s a common problem – but it’s not an invention of the boss.

          2. Blunt Bunny*

            There is nothing wrong with shaking your head it is a physical reaction of no and is showing you disagree. You are absolutely allowed to disagree with your boss, you just need to explain why. It doesn’t mean they aren’t listening, it just means I disagree but will let you finish and then will explain why. I think from the letter a lot of this could have be cleared up with a conversation. There is no need for Lola to assume what OP is thinking or try and read their reactions she should have asked her if something was wrong. Alternatively OP should verbalise any concerns or frustrations rather than passive aggressiveness (if that occurred). Once you talk about issues they can be resolved.

    2. sticky note*

      Lisa and Lola aren’t just pulling criticism/hurt feelings out of thin air. LW acknowledges that she’s made unkind expressions and rolled her eyes, and that’s something that will hold you back professionally regardless of gender and other “likeability” factors.

    3. gecko*

      No, not really, and I do think it’s reductive to call work problems girl-bullying simply when there are no male participants. It’s not a catfight; it’s talking to an employee about a work problem.

    4. Approval is optional*

      I had to speak to one of my reports (male) about his facial expressions in meetings – he didn’t eye roll but he would curl his lip in what was an obvious sneer really, then drop his chin and shake his head. There were other things discussed about how he dealt with his team at the same time of course – the attitude that lead to the curl and shake was our main focus.

      For the LW: I second the suggestion made in another comment about trying to change the way you respond emotionally if possible, but if you are looking for ‘quick’ tips: I taught myself as a child to maintain a poker face for… reasons. As an adult I had to teach myself to be a little less inscrutable, and I was given the tip to do facial exercises. You learn to isolate and control each facial muscle (or group of) looking in a mirror, then after you’ve mastered that, you make the desired expressions first with, then without, a mirror so you know what the expression feels like. The idea was to initially consciously make, for example, the smiling muscles smile when I was happy, and eventually my brain would associate the emotion I felt with that muscle movement and do it unconsciously. Whether it would work in reverse (ie become more poker faced) I don’t know, but if you learn what it feels like when your muscles start an ‘eye roll’ movement you might be able to nip it in the bud by consciously making one of the ‘neutral’ expressions you’ve taught yourself.

    1. TiffanyAching*

      In a similar vein, in addition to having a hard time controlling my expressions (which I’m getting marginally better at), I have zero control of the COLOR of my face. I blush very easily, at any strong emotion and even sometimes for not-so-strong emotions. If it’s warm or cold or if I’m sad or irritated or embarrassed or happy or surprised or or or… my face goes 12 shades of red (like literally just writing this is making me turn red, I can feel it).

      It’s especially difficult when I don’t even always feel it. There have been times when Jane will say something irritating in a meeting, or Bob proposes something that I have reservations about or which means a lot of work for me, and I’ll feel good that I kept my expression neutral-pleasant, but after my boss comes to check in on me because she saw my cheeks flame up.

      So, yeah, lots of sympathy for the truly unnoticed reactions. Eye-rolling is not cool, work on controlling what you can, and hopefully if you can get some of it under control the rest won’t be as big a deal.

      1. Batgirl*

        I have this problem! A poker face but a flaming red one at times.
        The only polite response to a blush is to ignore it. Oftentimes I’m just flustered or hot.

  13. fposte*

    There’s such a practice of women’s expressions being inappropriately policed that it can be tough to identify when it’s appropriate feedback.

    But sometimes it is, and assuming for the moment that it is in your case, what I’d suggest isn’t trying to *suppress* reactions but to replace them. When somebody tells you something you disagree with, can you maybe cue yourself to take a silent two-second breath with a relaxed jaw before responding? Drinking water is also a good redirection, but you can’t always have water ready for the unexpected pushback.

    FWIW, while shaking your head seems like a small thing, I realized I’d be pretty startled to see it from a report while I was giving them feedback about something I’d like them to try to change. It looks really resistant at a moment when I really need somebody to listen. So even if you’re not rolling your eyes, that’s a body movement that’s giving a signal that you probably don’t want to give.

    1. Forrest*

      Yeah, shaking your head is pretty significant. It’s effectively an interruption: a signal that you disagree with the other person and want them to stop talking so that you can get your response in.

      LW, yo umay not be aware of doing this, but I hope you can see that if you were giving feedback to someone and they started to shake their head, it would be very hard not to feel that was rude and that they’d stopped listening! I think you’re in a bit of denial here that the underlying attitudes you have are just as much a problem as your inability to keep them covered up.

      1. atalanta0jess*

        Yep. It would read similar to being interrupted with “no, no, no.” Which would not be cool.

      2. fposte*

        Yup. Ironically, in a casual no-stakes conversation about information (“Did we get the Fonebone report?” “Nope, not yet”) a headshake accompanying the “Nope” would be NBD. However, it’s such a different thing when you’re getting performance feedback that I’d advise the OP to try to redirect the impulse even in such NBD exchanges just to help strengthen a different habit.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, the eye rolling and the head shaking in the middle of a conversation with her manager and HR is what takes from “is this because she’s a she?” to “Oh no, this needs to change.”

    3. LDN Layabout*

      Yup. I’ve realised recently how much of my ‘actively listening’ face is nodding since I’ve moved to an organisation with a lot of homeworkers and end up doing it on non-video Skype calls.

      The head shake is the exact opposite of nodding along.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a really good comment.

      It also occurred to me that, if the OP isn’t conscious of eye-rolling, it may not be that she is intentionally rolling her eyes, but rather that a lot of people, when they’re trying to recall something (such as an occasion that is being discussed) tend to look up and to the side — and if the OP’s other body language already seems negative, such as head-shaking, that can be read as an eye-roll.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, that’s a good point–that the grammar of expression can make an eye movement an eyeroll even if it wasn’t consciously so.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          “The grammar of expression” — I love this phrase!! That’s so evocative.

      2. hbc*

        Ooh, yeah, if I try to do an eye roll, it’s like a full eyeball rotation going on, and it feels like a lot of effort. But I think I also do a quizzical head tilt/look-up-and-to-the-side thing when someone surprises me, and that could probably pass for an eye roll if you were predisposed to looking for one, either because you were expecting dismissal or I crossed my arms, shook my head, sighed, or frowned.

      3. Syfygeek*

        I have a habit, actually it’s more than a habit, it’s what I do- when I’m trying to pull out some detail from my brain, I look up with my eyes, blink a few times, and pull the factoid out.

        I think the OP needs to look at her body language- shoulders open, arms not crossed, leaning in- all the things you do to seem interested (like in an interview) and incorporate that into her mannerisms. If her body language says she’s interested in hearing what you have to say, then it’s easier to put the facial expressions into context.

        1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          At my last job, when I did the looking up/accessing factoid thing, my manager got mad. I think she thought I was rolling my eyes?

      4. matcha123*

        This is a thing in linguistics. We do it unconsciously when we are trying to recall information or trying to think of how to say something. However, when it’s done, it doesn’t look like an eye roll.
        Usually the person speaking will look up and to the side and hold that for the few seconds they are speaking. I tutor adults and kids in English and all of them do this a number of times throughout our lessons, to give some weight to my first-hand observations.

    5. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

      I trained myself to sneeze when I feel my, “You get on my nerves. I want to throttle you right now” emotions start to bubble. Thus far it has done the trick because everyone makes a weird face when they are about to sneeze

      1. fposte*

        Plus you can cover your face with your arm or Kleenex! This is brilliant–the modern-day answer to the fan.

        1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          It comes in pretty handy and you can always blame allergies, dust, etc. if you need to deploy it more than once in a meeting.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        How on earth do you train yourself to sneeze on command, and can you teach me?? This is genius!

        1. Snark*

          You could always do the “eeeh….ooooh….sneeze coming on, hold on” face, hold up a finger, and then go “oop, scared it away,” with the advantage that that face is not far from the “oh my god, seriously” face or the “what you have just said is so dumb it is causing me physical pain to think about it” face.

        2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          Start to think about how your nose itches, and I mean really, really itches on the inside. Then think about how you really want to sneeze, but this moment isn’t a good time to sneeze, in fact, it is the worst time to sneeze. Then do 3+ short, sharp sniffs and, for me, an actual or a “stuck” sneeze happens. I’m not sure if it works for everyone, but it worked for me. I think the key is convincing yourself you want to sneeze and then trying to stop yourself from sneezing

    6. Miranda*

      I know this sort of thing has been a problem for me in the past (I never had to manage people though) and I still work on it now even as a stay at home mom to help make things easier on everyone I communicate with. I have RBF or maybe more accurately, my natural I’m thinking face is either space cadet or RBF. Also, I shake my head side to side when I’m trying to clear a bit of brain fog to help me think/listen better. In order to communicate effectively with others I have to actively try to nod along and relax my face a bit rather than do what comes naturally. For something like work or school being able to take notes helps, because my note taking face is more relaxed. It’s frustrating, because my natural movements are automatically assumed to be meaning I’m angry/ not listening/etc and I have to actively translate them to something different to come across the way I am actually feeling. It’s like being in a foreign culture all the time, and is very tiring, but: it can be done with effort, and it is worth the effort to come across as how I actually feel rather than being misinterpreted. I strongly second the suggestion of reframing situations for when what you actually are feeling is exasperated/frustrated and that’s what you’re communicating. Even when being exasperated is justified (you made x mistake because you didn’t follow process yet again, after being warned that avoiding x mistake is exactly why we follow process), the right response is to step back, calm yourself down, and then follow appropriate discipline/pip processes until the person is properly back on task (or let go if they refuse, but then it will not be because you found them annoying, but that you found them incapable of actually doing their job). I will say again that it is royally frustrating to do, and frustrating to have to do because of what people automatically assume about me based on my body language but, it’s also not the rest of the world’s fault that my default body language doesn’t accurately say what I mean to communicate. Maybe try to mentally think of it like you’re originally from Bulgaria (where nodding means no and head shaking means yes) and now have to retrain yourself to do the reverse so as not to confuse others.

  14. Dust Bunny*

    Shaking your head no halfway through being told you were making faces while somebody else talked wasn’t a good start because, yes, it does suggest that you’ve already made up your mind and aren’t listening.

    This sounds a bit like my mom, whose automatic response is to bite somebody’s head off, even if she’s not mad. And then she gets offended when other people are offended. But it’s not just that everyone else is hypersensitive–she really is not good with tone of voice. She’s decided the rest of the world is wrong but her life would be easier if she’d think for a split second before responding.

    1. londonedit*

      I was thinking along similar lines – like with your mother’s instant reaction, could it be that the OP’s brain is rushing ahead, and the facial expressions are because of that? So if someone starts saying ‘Hey, I’ve noticed your reports have been late a couple of times…’, before they can even finish their sentence OP’s brain has gone through a rush of ‘OMG WHAT no there’s NO WAY they were late that’s just RIDICULOUS’ with accompanying flashes of facial expressions. If it’s something like that, maybe the OP could focus on training themselves to listen carefully to everything the other person is saying before allowing themselves to react to it?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Unfortunately, my mother is mostly just judgmental. I hope the OP’s underlying triggers are less ingrained than that.

    2. Kathenus*

      Very much this! I got feedback from a manager decades ago that really resonated with me. They told me to listen when I got constructive feedback versus ‘interrupting to tell them why I did what I did’. It was hard to hear at the time, and of course in my mind I was doing the right thing by giving them context, but they were absolutely right that what I was really doing was 1) not fully listening to what they said because I was already formulating my response, and 2) not taking responsibility for my actions but trying to excuse them instead. It’s been about 30 years since I got that feedback and I can literally still remember the meeting where I got it. It’s been very helpful to me in re-framing things in my mind. So OP use this as your own ‘aha’ moment to continue refining your habits that will over the long-term help both you and those you work with to be more successful. Good luck.

  15. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    “I can’t play games, so everyone knows exactly where I stand.”
    I think you may be well served by reading the comments to the letter about the “office grump” and how that “being just the way I am” is not a get out of jail free card. Yes, game playing is a crappy way to run a business. Honest feedback is much better. But there are limits. If someone does a great job would you jump up and down and shout it from the rafters? No, you’d temper your response. If someone does a bad job, would you yell and throw things? No, you’d temper your response. In both cases it’s because you would stop, take a breath and choose how to act. The same thing here. As Lola said, you were already shaking your head as she spoke. You weren’t listening. You were replying.
    I’m not making a list of all the ways you are wrong and everyone else is right, I’m saying that how you act is not flying in your company and you need to adjust your manner to succeed.

    1. The Very Worst Wolf*

      I had a similar thought when I read that comment. I’m all for ‘you do you,’ but not when it is hurting others or getting in the way of doing your job. And in this case, it sounds as though the unchecked facial expressions are impeding OP’s ability to communicate effectively with others. I know it’s not an easy fix – we all have those ingrained habits in how we talk and express ourselves (or don’t) with others. But the good news is that working on this will likely have a positive impact on a whole range of OP’s personal experiences that she may not have yet considered.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah. Sometimes, you don’t actually need the world to know where you stand. Sometimes, you stand in a place that is not reasonable, kind, or collegial. That’s not a great place to be standing. Don’t advertise it.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, it reminds me of those people who say “I’m just saying what everybody’s thinking.” Okay, but if everybody else has realized they shouldn’t vocalize that thought, there’s likely a really good reason for that, and you don’t want to be the person who ignores the good reasons not to say something.

        1. Snark*

          Amazing how often the justification contains its own rebuttal, isn’t it? Kind of like “I don’t want to be racist, but-” and you’re like, oh god, here it comes….

          1. Dragoning*

            “I don’t want to be racist, but–”

            “Then don’t be and stop talking now, Christ.”

        2. FuzzFrogs*

          I’ve had so many fucking people in my life defend hurtful things they said as “just being honest.” That…doesn’t mean you should’ve said it to another human, bud!

    3. schnauzerfan*

      Yes. You are who you are, but you don’t have to lean into it. I am quiet, somber even, but I do make an effort to try to project a bit of optimism and not lead with my inner Eeyore. Look in the mirror and think about the bad parts of Lola. See what she sees, then try to think of her good points and see if there’s a difference you can project…

    4. Djuna*

      This is so true – and a physical response is as much of a cut-off as a verbal one.
      People don’t like feeling cut off when they’re bringing a concern to you.
      A quirked brow, a smothered grimace, or an eye-roll can all escalate something from a brief and mildly annoying interaction to someone being pissed at you. The latter is way harder to come back from, and if it happens often enough, the Popeye defense (I am what I am!) can lead to people deciding that what you are is “difficult to work with” or “aggressive” or “bad at taking feedback”.
      It really is worth the effort to notice and modulate facial expressions and gestures – don’t get me wrong, it can also be exhausting, and draining, and it is *work* – but if you want your actual work to be the thing that people notice, you have to make sure they’re not being distracted from it by whatever your face is doing in the moment.

  16. Lauren*

    As someone who was given similar feedback and had to painfully learn to control my emotions and my facial expressions, I understand the OP’s frustration, but I’m here to say that this IS possible. The first things OP will have to do are accept that she is not being professional as well as realize that she CAN change how she acts. This is not an inherent or integral flaw in her personality, nor is it just ‘being straightforward and honest’; it’s a response that she’s having to other people that isn’t working for her (or them).

    Part of my experience was working with a career coach – the things that helped me were books on Nonviolent Communication as well as a dialectical behavioural therapy workbook. (This is technically for people with borderline personality disorder, which I do not have, but my mom did, and I was surprised to realize how much the strategies helped me figure things out.)

    I was very lucky to have a boss who helped me work through this and an organization that supported this as professional development; I truly believe it changed how I approach work relationships and professionalism. I think it would be possible to do this work on your own, but it might be helpful to get advice from a trusted mentor or therapist. I get compliments now on my teamwork and collaboration skills, and people trust me and feel that I am approachable. In my role as a technical expert managing a portfolio of monitoring and evaluation work for a small organization, that has made my life MUCH better – and given me career options that I wouldn’t have previously had.

    I would encourage the OP to be open to the idea of hearing feedback from other members of her team, and to do some digging as to why she’s reacting with contempt (rolling her eyes, sighing) in work situations. For example, a lot of the reasons that I did that boiled down to feeling anxious about getting things done and feeling frustrated that people weren’t doing the right things (in my opinion). I had to really become more comfortable with communicating when I was upset, stressed, or anxious, rather than hinting at it in my behaviour because I didn’t want to articulate it. This may or may not apply to OP, but it helped to realize that there are other parts of my personality that are MUCH more adapted for my office work – such as my inclination to maximize benefits for all parties as much as possible – so I learned to lean heavily into those when I needed to.

    Do I still get frustrated? Sure. But I know my goal is to be seen at work as a positive, collaborative team member who brings good energy to meetings, even when I’m upset. I don’t always hit the EXACT right mark, but things are much better than they used to be.

    1. fposte*

      Wow, Lauren, this is really insightful and helpful. Are there specific books you’d recommend or is the subject enough for the OP to get to them?

      I do think that some people are just more somatic communicators than others, whether because of family, culture, or personality, but I like the messaging that you and other people with this struggle are giving–it doesn’t mean that it’s an immutable characteristic, and you’re selling yourself short if you treat it as if it were.

      1. Lauren*

        I think I’ll be stuck in moderation if I post links, but the one that really helped was the DBT workbook by McKay and Wood. Other books such as Nonviolent Communication (Rosenberg) gave me a lot to think about.

        If I’m honest, the hardest part was accepting that I wasn’t behaving appropriately to the situation, and there wasn’t any resource that drove that home. It was a pretty hard pill to swallow, and I think it’s probably where OP is stuck here. I had to accept that people I trusted were telling me this for a reason. (People don’t have difficult conversations about your interpersonal skills for fun unless they are insane! It’s so stressful for them!) Once I’d kind of absorbed that and accepted that it was something I needed to get a handle on, it was easier to do the rest of the work. It required a kind of brutal self-honesty that ALSO recognized that I am a pretty intelligent and competent adult who is capable of growth.

        1. That Californian*

          Oh my goodness, not to derail, but I really needed to read that last paragraph for some stuff I’ve been going through outside of work! Thank you very much.

        2. R.D.*

          Lauren, thank you for sharing this and your previous comment.

          I find this bit really helpful in general. “People don’t have difficult conversations about your interpersonal skills for fun unless they are insane! It’s so stressful for them.” I hope I’m able to remember that sentiment when I am next in a disagreement with someone.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Some really good stuff to dig into what you’ve said here. Kudos for the work you’ve put in.

    3. Lance*

      I don’t always hit the EXACT right mark, but things are much better than they used to be.

      This, I feel, is a very key point to consider. We’re human; we’re not perfect, we make mistakes. Even if you, OP, do learn to moderate your expression better, you’re still liable to have slips… and that’s alright, so long as you’re aware of them and don’t let them take charge.

    4. smoke tree*

      This is a really good insight–often these pronounced facial expressions and heavy sighs are a kind of cry for attention (whether intentional or unintentional). I’ve definitely reacted this way in moments where I didn’t think I was free to speak openly but it’s obviously not an effective way to communicate and probably just leads to more frustration. It’s quite uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of this as well. I think it could be really helpful for the LW to consider why she is reluctant to address her frustration head-on.

  17. RainbowsAndKitties*

    As a Social Worker, a strong poker face is essential when you never know what you are going to encounter with a client.
    My best advice is to practice, practice, practice. We had to practice in school through mock interviews, and we practiced with friends and family. I couldn’t tell you how many times I cracked up or looked shocked in a mock interview before I learned to develop a poker face. Have your friends and family say things that they know will make you angry and roll your eyes. Try your best to keep a straight face, and listen to your friends and family’s feedback. Rinse and repeat.

    1. RainbowsAndKitties*

      P.S. – I’m 100% a “heart on my sleeve” type of person who can usually barely hide my expressions. I can’t lie or keep secrets because people know immediately based on my facial expressions.

      But my Social Worker and Manager poker faces are 100% tested and approved. Practice.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      This is good advice. I used to do social services and often my clients told me the wiiiiiildest stuff. But pretty quickly it became a lot easier to maintain a neutral/warm facial expression.

      1. RainbowsAndKitties*

        Yes! You have to love the most random outbursts from people that have you screaming on the inside but you HAVE to keep a straight face because they are dead serious and you can’t discount their feelings.
        Client: “I lick my cats paws because it makes me feel closer to my dead husband. My cat’s name is JoJo”
        Me; smiling warmly while freaking out inside: “Tell me more about JoJo”
        (Disclaimer: This did not actually happen. Although I’ve heard nuttier things…)

    3. Salamander*

      I think this is really good advice. I tend to also wear my heart on my sleeve in my personal life, but I’ve had to develop the poker face for work.

      One thing that helps me is to consciously take inventory of how my face feels when it’s at rest – when I’m reading or on the computer. I take inventory of what my muscles are doing, how they feel slack and relaxed and neutral. Pause to see how that looks in a mirror. Since I have a bit of RBF, that expression comes across as a little harsh. I’ve practiced, at this point, turning up the corners of my mouth to a neutral, pleasant expression. It’s not a smile, but it’s very neutral. I observe how that feels. I can usually slip into that whenever I need to as a default expression. Having one has really helped me in the professional world – I don’t want other people knowing what I’m thinking, and being able to do it helps me be in better control of situations.

      I really think that it’s not much different than people with very loud voices or very soft voices having to modulate their voices in an office environment, or scream-sneezers learning not to engage their vocal cords when they sneeze. Or people who learn to enunciate better (also one of my challenges, since I’m a chronic mumbler). It may not be one’s natural default, but we all do things to get along better in the office.

      1. Katherine*

        This is what I do, too! I periodically take inventory of my what my face is doing when I’m doing something neutral or not emotionally charged, like right now, I’m typing a comment on a blog post.

        I previously worked in a male-dominated industry and was scolded for my RBF a few times by my (male) manager. After I developed a neutral/pleasant “default” face, he stopped scolding me for my RBF and then began scolding me for my emails which weren’t warm and friendly enough… but that’s another story.

        My RBF is: eyes slightly narrowed, eyebrows slightly furrowed, and corners of my mouth turned slightly down. When I’m thinking hard or focusing intently on something, I squint more, very obviously furrow my brow, and purse my lips (which all adds up to looking like a scowl, which it isn’t! I swear! I’m just focused/thinking!), which is why I’ve chosen these three things to change.

        I changed my “default” facial expression so that (1) my eyes are open wide, not squinty, (2) the corners of my mouth are turned slightly up, and (3) my eyebrows slightly lifted.

        Having a neutral “default” face has benefited me in other ways that I hadn’t anticipated. For example, I’m also scared when I speak in public, but I have been assigned to teach bi-weekly lessons in my all-women Sunday school group (about 50 women). With my neutral “default” face, the ladies think I am warm and pleasant and caring–they’re wrong, I hate public speaking and I’m terrified. But they don’t know that!

    4. atalanta0jess*

      I don’t know if I ever got super good at this, but I definitely have a little active listening noise (like a friendly “huh”) and interested face that I pull out when I hears something provocative.

    5. Samwise*

      Yep, my mind is thinking,”kid [or, colleague], you are full of it” but my face is alert and listening and either neutral or sympathetic. Bonus: when I listen with that kind of face, not only do my students trust that I’m really listening, but I actually listen better, and I learn stuff I would not have otherwise heard. Including that “you are full of it” was completely wrong. Hard hard to do, but necessary.

    6. Heidi*

      Also, don’t feel like you need to have a completely expressionless face. When I’m listening to others, I actually keep a concerned concentration face. A bit of a furrowed brow, lots of nodding. It’s not a happy expression, but it’s also not angry. Think contemplative with a bit of sympathy, like you’re listening to someone describe an illness they recently had. It’s easier to keep one face if I’m actually doing something my muscles. I stick with that one face until the other person stops talking, and then I sort out how I want to respond.

    7. Anononon*

      Yes, this. I’m an attorney who deals with a lot of pro se opponents in court, and they often come up with the wildest statements. Also, my side is often seen as the big corporate bad guys. I’ve gotten pretty good at just having a quiet, neutral face while they speak.

  18. Holly*

    This is something I struggle with a lot in my personal life- I’ll say something that it sounds to me like I’m saying in a neutral tone, but to others it comes off as snapping. I’ve heard this from multiple people, but I just couldn’t hear it with my own ear. Therapy helped a *lot* with this, as did just being more self-aware and trying to pause before speaking when I’m disagreeing with something, so I have time to modulate.

    I know you’re saying that it’s something you can’t control, but what I learned in therapy is that it *is* in your control. It’s hard to self-help this kind of thing.

      1. Holly*

        It was two things 1) not taking for an answer it was out of my control and 2) being more mindful generally so I can take a moment – because potentially making faces etc is a stress signal

      2. dawbs*

        FWIW, this is what my kid’s shrink is working w/ them on, because autistic kiddos sometimes don’t ‘hear’ what they’re saying.
        Speech therapists work on this sort of thing–spend 2 hours a week sitting through it :)

    1. Dragoning*

      I’m having this problem at work right now. I try to say something clearly and firmly on the phone with coworkers in another country I don’t often get along with or agree with, and later my coworkers in the area say, “Yeah, I could really hear you were annoyed.” One of them said I was yelling and when I object, he rescinded that, because I wasn’t…but my tone was clear.

      But I was trying very hard not to sound like that!

      But this is me needing to do better, not “they need to figure out my tone better.”

    2. Snark*

      I feel this real hard. I have been told by a lot of people that what feels to me like “speaking forcefully because I’m kind of annoyed” comes out more like “channeling the ghost of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket.” Pausing, taking a breath, and then speaking helps that a lot.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      The last line is showing up in a few forms here, and I think it goes to the heart of the problem–this isn’t an essence-of-your-being thing that you can’t change, but a behavior that you can change if you decide the costs of continuing are hurting your career or relationships.

      1. Holly*

        That’s not to say it’s not hard or that you can necessarily get rid of it completely, but I think it’s helpful to talk to someone outside of yourself to get that perspective

    4. fposte*

      If you can remember in the moment, you can also correct course while you’re talking. If you end more gently, it really softens the impact of a harder startup.

      1. Samwise*

        Yes, and you can also apologize for the hard start, that goes a long way as long as it’s not every interaction.

    5. Anon attorney*

      I’ve had this on and off. I don’t snark at work but apparently sometimes what I thought was professional directness made the recipient long to run to the nearest nuclear bunker. Part of this was definitely gendered (I’m female, and there’s a whole derail here about how you can be labeled “scary” because you don’t sugar coat, vocal fry, all that) but sometimes I was just prioritizing my desire to be direct and get stuff off my desk quickly over the recipient’s feelings. What helped me was a job where I had to manage a bunch of extremely relationship oriented people – all in client relationship management roles – who really needed relationship based management rather than task focused management. They gave me good feedback. I got nicer and in fairness they got a bit more task oriented. We all learned.

      I say that but the other week I accidentally went through a junior associate about something minor that wasn’t his fault. I apologized but I can tell he’s wary of me. This stuff requires vigilance. But seeking out feedback from someone else whom you trust might be pretty instructive for you? But you have to be able to see all this as about behavior – that you can change – and not trait or identity. Otherwise you’re going to struggle to self monitor and change.

      Good luck from someone who has almost sprained her eyes at work many times but is mostly getting along ok now!

  19. The Very Worst Wolf*

    If you have an office with walls, you could consider hanging a mirror in your line of sight (just like you might do with a photo or piece of art – if it’s got a nice frame, a mirror will just look like decor). Obviously, you don’t want to be looking at yourself all day, but a quick flick of the eyes to check your expression during an in-office meeting can do wonders to help make yourself aware of when you’re pulling faces you might not otherwise notice. This won’t help all the time, of course, but when you’re meeting someone in your space, it might be a good stepping stone to becoming more aware of how certain facial expressions feel. With some focus, that will help you identify and modulate those expressions in other circumstances as well. Good luck!

    1. sticky note*

      You can also get cell phone cases with mirrored backs, which would also be a way to try to take subtle glances at your expression.

    2. Batgirl*

      I used to have a mirrored photo frame on my desk for this. Even though customers phoning me up couldn’t see my face, your expression absolutely shows up in your voice.

  20. Missy*

    I also have a very expressive face. I do two things. One, when I’m listening to someone in a situation where I need to remain neutral, I sort of gently pull my cheeks near my teeth in a way that you can’t really see from outside, but keeping in that position prevents me from moving my lips or lower face in any way that is obvious. Two, was recognizing that I won’t be able to not respond, but that I can respond in a different way. It isn’t a true poker face. You will still have a “tell” it just is not using the expressions that most people do. I don’t eye roll when I’m annoyed, I will head tilt while looking up and nod slightly. People tend to read this as me listening intently or agreeing. It also helps that it is easy to transition to this when you realize you’ve started doing the eye roll. When I realize I am doing a deep inhale because I’m about to sigh I hold the breath, and make sure to straighten my back (so that I’m not slumping or shrugging) and then slowly breath out of my nose like normal. When I want to cross my arms across my chest I will instead move them behind my back. Being totally blank was just not possible for me since my expressions usually started before I realized I was doing it, but transitioning them to different expressions has eliminated the conflict with other people over them.

    1. RainbowsAndKitties*

      Great advice! I’ve caught myself mid-sigh so many times. I love your idea about putting your arms behind your back instead of crossing them. That can give off a totally different message.

    2. JustaTech*

      This is so very helpful, thank you so much!

      I guess one way to think about it is something my friends who are parents of little kids told me: you’re going to respond when they fall, but you don’t want to rush in with “oh no did that hurt?” because then the kid will cry even if it didn’t hurt. So you teach yourself to say something neutral, like “oop!”

  21. Snark*

    “I’m scared that what she wants — for me to develop a poker face — is something I am not capable of doing. And if I can’t do it to her satisfaction, she won’t let me move up or, worse, she’ll get rid of me.”

    Yes, OP, one does occasionally experience professional consequences for being an asshole to people at work, up to and including firing. Rolling your eyes, making faces, shaking your head and not listening? That’s really, really rude, dismissive, contemptuous. You’re expected to be respectful, pleasant, and collegial, not “develop a poker face.”

    I am not encouraged by the fact that your reaction features centering yourself and your feelings of personal persecution over reckoning with the fact that Lola and others think you’ve been an asshole to them to the point they no longer want to work with you.

    1. Snark*

      And my intention here, in using the word asshole, is not to personally insult OP, but to kind of shock-highlight just how very not okay this kind of behavior is and what people think of it. That’s the kind of word that gets attached to people who roll their eyes in meetings and scowl when they disagree with you.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I went with “get out of jail free card” idea, kind of to avoid saying this.

      1. Snark*

        And I went with “being an asshole” to avoid calling her an asshole! But I think it’s useful, sometimes, to have that wrenching realization that, geezus, I’ve been being a total asshole*!

        *he says, with experience

        1. sticky note*

          I do this too. It’s important for me to not internally downplay something crappy I’ve done into “live and learn, do it differently next time” or “oops, I didn’t stop to think before I said that.”

          I have to tell myself “you’re not a bad person, but that was a dick move and you don’t have an excuse for it.”

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I’ve had them, too. Particularly the “nobody’s laughing but you” moment. I hear Denis Leary in my head and try to choose wisely.

      1. Snark*

        No. How OP is treating people is deeply out of line, and her attitude about being corrected on that centers her own feelings about being corrected rather than aghastness that she makes people feel dismissed and insulted. What is rude or unhelpful about pointing that out? What is untrue?

      2. Annette*

        Yes Emma. Others gave better suggestions – with more appropriate language. It’s not either / or. This is a stranger so no need for tough love.

        1. Annette*

          Likely culprit is a persecution complex. You seem to often get in arguments with other readers. More than differences of opinion – it is probably you.

      3. AKchic*

        No, it is helpful. It’s just not sugarcoated. Once in a while, a person needs to have the kid gloves taken off and the safety nets removed so they can see the real-world ramifications, not the watered-down, rose-colored pie-in-the-sky euphemisms that others might push onto them, or the wishy-washy tip-toeing around the subject that they’ve already been doing.
        It’s a shock to the system, yes, but a necessary one so people will understand that not everyone feels so warmly towards the behaviors being exhibited and hiding your head in the sand must stop and real growth and change must happen if you are to move forward.

        1. Snark*

          This is the spirit it was offered in. If that approach rubs people the wrong way, that’s fair and reasonable, but I really don’t think “hey, what you’re doing isn’t just letting people know where you stand, it’s being an asshole” is actually unhelpful or rude.

        2. Lance*

          This, I can honestly agree with. Sure, it can hurt, sure, it can be a shock… sure, there are also times and places for it (as I feel this may be one, as Snark hit on a pretty good point about OP seeming to strongly internalize all this). Sometimes, indeed, someone too set in ‘this is how things are’ needs that kind of wake-up.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        I think it’s pretty useful. I mean, how do you think Lola is viewing this situation, or describing OP to her friends? Is she going “I had a meeting with OP, who I feel such sympathy for because of her terrible trouble controlling her expressions, but hey, you know she isn’t playing games!”? Or is she saying “ugh, OP kept rolling her eyes at everything I said today – what an asshole.”? I think it’s useful to remember that the people OP’ working with probably aren’t privy to the emotions and personal history that she’s laid out in this letter, and are probably viewing her as, yes, kind of an asshole.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As someone with a “natural” asshole streak [man, if you met my dad’s family, you’d see it’s in my DNA], this is where I landed as well. The thing is you can change how you react to people, you are in control of your face, words and tone.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        LOL, re: the DNA comment.

        I have a bad/quick temper. It’s genetic. It passes almost instantly, but like a sudden storm, destruction lies in its wake~

        Guess what, when I was venting it? I was being an asshole. It doesn’t matter that it was me, that changing my reactions was excruciatingly hard and controlling it still /is/ hard.

        I was being an asshole and when you’re being an asshole you hurt people. And I don’t think reasonable people want to hurt people.

        I was lucky to have family who understood, but didn’t tolerate my behaviour. I suggest OP talks to her people, be honest, ask for help.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        Agreed!! My family can be hot tempered too and sometimes I want to blurt out something that will come across as rude and it’s taken very conscious effort to avoid this.

        It takes work but absolutely can be done.

    4. gecko*

      I’m not surprised that OP is feeling stung; I think it’s the idea that her face is just a reflection of what’s going on inside, so if her face is the problem, then she’s the problem. But all of us get frustrated at work, sometimes think some of our colleagues are being idiots, or disagree with something going on in front of us.

      Snark, you’re right that these are predictable consequences for asshole-y actions. Building off your objection to the phrase “develop a poker face,” I think it’s important to emphasize that head-shaking etc isn’t neutral, it’s an action.

      I think the reframe for the OP could be that reacting rudely (via facial expressions or head-shaking) isn’t a neutral reflection of self, it’s something you’re doing. It’s a habitual action, but it’s an outward projection, not a transparency. That’s why coworkers & superiors are so put off–they see OP taking an action to project those feelings, like marching up to them unprompted and saying “you’re an idiot”, while OP sees it right now as taking no action and expressing what’s really happening.

    5. Batgirl*

      Harsh but it was important to say this. I think everyone of us with this problem got smacked upside the head at one time. Without it we still would not realise we’re being actively rude and thoughtless. That we are too well understood, not misunderstood!

    6. Anon Accountant*

      As a side note my organization enforces a “no jerk” rule. Behaviors such as rolling eyes or making faces at others isn’t tolerated. They’ve actually managed out good employees who did these behaviors. They say it’s easier to develop a person with a good attitude than to tolerate disrespect.

      LW please don’t be that person. You really can work in this. Practice pausing, taking a deep breath and proceed.

  22. Not Today Satan*

    I had a coworker who was very expressive and honestly, I couldn’t stand her. She made faces in a way that seemed very condescending/insulting. I always wondered how no one had ever given her coaching about it because it was truly infuriating (and it wasn’t just me who felt this way).

    So really… consider this an opportunity to learn about the impact you’re not purposely intending on others, and to redirect–many people don’t get that chance

    I also wonder if it’s an uncontrollable as you say–you describe a neutral expression as “playing games”. I don’t consider it that way at all–it’s just being courteous towards the feelings of my colleagues. Do you maybe view expressiveness as some sort of “honesty”, and thus a neutral expression is “dishonest”? Maybe if you reframe the way you think about it, it would be easier change.

    1. Salamander*

      I think the “playing games” wording is interesting. I really don’t want people knowing what I think all of the time…or even much of the time! Nobody needs to know, for instance, that I thought about my grocery list for a part of the last meeting I was in.

      When I do want them to know what I’m thinking, I tell them verbally. I kind of feel like the OP may think, on some level, that others need to know what she’s feeling all the time, which really isn’t the case. Burdening other people with our emotions all the time is kind of exhausting.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, I find that interesting too. Like, speaking personally, what is going on in my head is pretty weird a lot of the time. Sometimes I’m feeling kind of depressed or irritated or just totally checked out. I don’t think it’s playing games to conceal the fact that I’m totally spaced out and thinking about tacos.

        I think about tacos a lot.


      2. fposte*

        Yes, that’s the kind of phrase that raises concerns for me. A huge goal of child-rearing is to install the filter between the brain and the mouth/action and the understanding that there are often higher goals than candor, whether it’s kindness or effectiveness. Prioritizing self-expression is a short-term self-focus–it’s not considering others or future you, and it’s choosing expressing what you want to express at the expense of getting what you want to get.

    2. AKchic*

      The “playing games” idea stuck out for me too, but I really can’t put my finger on *why* it bothers me so much. I’m sure that my thoughts will orient themselves as the day progresses for me.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I flashed back to the comments under the letter from what to do about the office grump. Someone wrote about a coworker who justified rude behavior by saying “I’m not fake.” Fake and and Playing Games are trigger words for me, because they indicate that the speaker is trying to justify being rude/hateful/harmful under the guise of the oh so nauseating “speaking my truth.”
        “You don’t say what you think because you’re fake.”
        Yes, I’m fake because I don’t gratuitously criticize people and justify it as a moral imperative.
        I don’t tell someone “that idea is absurd” because it’s offensive. I don’t tell someone “I hate their jacket” because it’s just mean. I don’t tell someone “you have not had one good idea since the day you were born” because that’s not going to help.
        But that’s just me. :)

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yeah, these are all under the same heading for me, too. Terms like these are used by people who feel that they have an inalienable right to treat other people poorly and that they should not face any negative social consequences for doing so.

        1. AKchic*

          Yes. As Karma, Snark, Countess, Lance, smoke tree, and Not Today Satan have all hit on… and I think that’s all it.

          It’s the blanketed covering statements that essentially both excuse and scapegoat any tactless and rude utterance by a person making the statement(s), and that’s what bothers me about it. The LW knows that there is a problem, but rather than recognize that it is a self-problem, they have chosen to embrace the problem as a quirk or personality trait and make it an “everybody else” problem instead. A “like it or leave it but this is what it is” kind of problem, and essentially letting everyone else have a problem with it rather than making the effort to fix it.

          I really hope the LW takes some of these comments to heart and works on changing their mindset.

      2. Lance*

        For me, it bothers me in a way Not Today Satan pointed out: that it feels like anything that’s not expressive isn’t honest. I admit, I’m not terribly good at reading expressions or body language, so maybe I’m an outlier… but I’d much rather be met with a neutral expression that appears to be listening, than a more… shall I say, active expression that tells me… something else that I may or may not be able to figure out.

      3. bleh*

        To be fair, some office cultures *do* engage in game playing. Pretending everything is fine to your face and undermining you behind your back. Smiling while sharpening the knife. Faces can literally lie, and it isn’t always to remain professional. Perhaps this LW has encountered some of those extremes on the other side of the coin.

        None of which suggests that the LW doesn’t need to work on her eye rolling. Just that “playing games” is a thing that happens in some office culture.

        1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          All of this. It took literally years after I left ToxicJob for me to be able to take what people said at face value. “OK, they said they liked my work on the project, but what are they REALLY up to?”

        2. Batgirl*

          Yeah, it can be hard to learn ‘keep your face pleasant so as not to halt this honest exchange’ in a ‘we smile while sharpening knives for your back’ atmosphere. It could be OPs background? However she said ‘whole life’ not working life so I’m inclined to believe she’s just never mastered this life skill.

  23. Liz*

    I’ve had similar issues in the past, and the two biggest things that helped were:

    1) Adjusting my internal narrative around being supportive of people that are learning instead of frustrated by people that aren’t doing well. For me it helped a lot to think of it as “coaching” for some reason (maybe because I’ve had some great sports coaches!)

    2) NOT giving critical feedback in the moment as much as possible. Instead I take it back and think about what I want to say, how to phrase it, and often run it past my supervisor, and then either give feedback in a very controlled situation or even send it by email so I can re-read it and make sure it’s not coming off negatively in ways I don’t instead.

    1. Snark*

      I am of the opinion that most crtitical, or even constructive, feedback benefits from some aging time.

  24. Celeste*

    OP, your issue may not be so much your face but that you’re a “hot reactor”. It’s more of an emotional thing. I think if you can find ways to calm down your reactions to people and situations that you don’t like, it will go a long way.

    One idea is to consider that some of these tones and remarks are like cars; they come, they go, and you can observe them as they pass by you without chasing each one. Let them go.

    Another thing you can try in the moment is instead of reacting with your face, react with your voice. Take a breath, and evenly say, “Okay.” Just very plainly, not softly or loudly, not with any kind of inflection, and not fast and clipped or not drawn out and disdainful. The mark you want to hit is “accepting”.

    Good luck to you; you’ve gotten valuable feedback and I hope you can use it to improve and grow your relationships.

  25. Eulerian*

    Have you thought of *literally* learning to play poker? I mean not for money if you don’t want, but it might be a new approach to learning to control your face more?

    Just a thought.

  26. Falling Diphthong*

    Rolling your eyes at someone is dismissive and contemptuous. It’s not that different from saying out loud “I think you’re an idiot” or “what an asinine remark” or “I don’t respect you.”

    It’s the nonverbal “Whatever.” I’m dismissing what you say, based on my deep-seated contempt for your lack of knowledge on this topic.

    OP, not being dismissive and contemptuous (at least outside the confines of your brain) is really a basic adulting thing.

  27. Resting Fab Face*

    Totally not kidding with this. I have terrible “resting bitch face” and have been told that I look angry and “mean” in meetings/conversations with some conflict. Then, I started getting Botox for cosmetic reasons. BOOM, my RBF is now just RF. I’ve been commended by our HR leader for working on my poker face, but really I just got Botox. Seriously, changed my work life.

    1. Emma*

      Same here! It has helped against some of the facial expressions. I still need to work on voice and speech style. But Botox has helped.

    2. RandomU...*

      That’s really sad that you and others are forced to resort to botox in order to conform to people’s facial expression preferences.

      This makes me frown :(

      1. VelociraptorAttack*

        To be fair, Resting Fab Face said their Botox was for cosmetic reasons, insinuating it was a choice, and this was an unexpected side effect. They don’t appear to feel they were forced to do it at all.

        Resting Fab Face, sorry for speaking for you and particularly if I’m wrong!

        1. Resting Fab Face*

          Totally did it for my own personal cosmetic reasons. Not sad at all, this was just a lucky side benefit.

  28. Anonymeece*

    Ooh, this is weirdly relevant. I actually used to have a boss who did this – rolled eyes in meetings, huffed at people, etc. She also said she had been counseled by her boss on it and protested that she was just “like that” (emotional open book) and couldn’t help it. She also thought that she didn’t play games/you know exactly where I stand/etc.

    OP, I know this isn’t going to be fun to hear, but I guarantee that this is more than just a Lisa-problem. In the case of my boss, it led to the following problems:
    *Everyone in that office was definitely afraid to approach her. Even when she wasn’t necessarily mad at us, her face/actions were dismissive and off-putting to the point we avoided telling her things and flat-out avoided her. *She made a lot of enemies in the office because of this, which made it harder for us to work with those people (and I imagine it made her job a lot harder trying to find people who would work with her).

    I don’t mean this in an unkind way, OP, but consider that when you say “this is just who I am”, it makes it harder to change it because you think of it as changing a part of yourself, rather than a behavior that you have. You can’t change your personality, but you can change your behaviors. Start thinking of this as a behavior, rather than a personality trait. You’ve said that you’ve tried working on it in the past: what did you try before? Maybe think about if it didn’t work because it didn’t work (which happens!) or because you didn’t really give it a good shot. How do you handle scenarios when you must remain neutral: talking to someone about work problems, or handling a last-minute request from the VP?

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck, OP. This is something that will hold you back in the long-run and I think it’s worth working on.

    1. Animal worker*

      This is great phrasing Anonymeece. Especially the part where this is about changing behavior, not changing your personality. In animal training we try to avoid using labels for the animals – things like they’re aggressive, hormonal, fearful, territorial, etc. Using a label on an animal does several unhelpful things – it puts the burden on the animal versus the trainer, it makes assumptions about why the animal does what they do which is only a guess, and it takes away a trainer’s power to change things if it’s ‘part of the animal’ versus about their behavior. So we say ‘what does it look like’? We look at the actual, physical behavior the animal is exhibiting – regardless of the motivation behind it – to give us our first step in how to modify that behavior in a positive way. The motivation might be important too, but since we can’t always be sure of the motivation or have the power to change it, it’s more effective to look at the specific behavior to devise a solution.

      So in this case, I agree 100% with Anonymeece that looking at this as behaviors in yourself to modify, versus trying to be something you’re not or change your personality, gives you more power and tools to make a change. Hopefully the fact that you’re writing in and trying to get advice is the first step in your working to proactively address these behaviors that are negatively affecting you and your coworkers. I’ve had to work very hard at addressing some things about me, especially in the areas of listening/tact/diplomacy, and it didn’t start until I was really ready to accept that these really were issues, that only I could change these things, and that it wasn’t about other people and their behavior/reaction. I can’t change anyone but myself, and once I took that ownership and responsibility, I identified specific behaviors where I wanted to improve and worked on them step by step. You can do it too – good luck.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think people decide “this is who I am” because they try to change it completely alone; no mirrors, no role playing and that’s doomed because you can’t see your own face. The length of time spent trying is irrelevent.

      I’m equally dubious that OP can’t change this because there’s no mention of methods she’s tried or requests for new methods. She thinks some people just have ‘it’. The truth is most kids are very intensively coached on polite expressions and voice tones.

      In my job, teaching, you’ll get higher level coaching as an adult too because kids are genuinely frustrating.

  29. Rachel*

    I used to show all my emotions on my face and now I can keep my face completely neutral indefinitely, so here’s my experience. This might sound strange or be too extreme, but for me I found it was “boot camp face” (which I actually developed in boot camp when I wanted to avoid being targeted by drill sergeants). Basically, the totally neutral, looking straight ahead but not at anything in particular, face I keep I encounter someone who is potentially unhinged, violent, or I just don’t want to draw their attention. Have you ever taken public transportation with someone who was clearly on the verge of going off, or had to deescalate with a drunk in a bar, etc.? It’s that same skill of keeping your face as neutral as possible and not making eye contact but not obviously avoiding eye contact either, like it’s a hostage situation or something.

    I’m certainly not saying that your coworkers are violent and unhinged, but saying that that same skill of keeping your face blank because you know the reaction of the person you’re interacting with to any indicator might be scary and explosive, can be used for very dialed back (but still potentially negative) interactions as well, and after a while it becomes second nature to put the face on.

    No idea if this will be useful, but for whatever it’s worth…

    1. KR*

      Oh good idea bringing up the boot camp face. I’m so impressed by how my spouse can stand at attention and be completely emotionless, have no movement in his facial muscles, and stay like that! Whenever I try my eyebrows go crazy and I suddenly forget how to relax my forehead muscles.

      1. Rachel*

        It’s very easy to learn how to keep a straight face when you become a target for swift and horribly negative consequences whenever you fail to do so! I imagine that if people started verbally abusing you the moment you let your facial neutrality slip, that would be an effective (not GOOD, but effective) learning technique. :)

        I’m not sure how you get the same level of self control when you know there are no immediate repercussions (although I would say rolling your eyes at people does make you a target in a more longterm way) but acting/mental reframing might help.

        1. ExcitedAndTerrified*

          I was coming here to say much the same thing. Keeping a neutral expression is something I learnt from a young age, thanks to the bullies of my childhood.

  30. T*

    To put it from an employee’s perspective, this kind of behavior from a boss will make your team disengage and cause them to no longer respect you. My boss does this and makes inappropriate comments to boot, while being an all around jerk. If an issue comes up she automatically blames us, even when it’s clearly an issue with a 3rd party, and makes it clear through facial expressions and tone of voice that she thinks we’re idiots. She’s only been a manger for two years with no prior experience, and it’s been a hellish experience. If you show lack of respect to your employees it will come back in the form of problems two-fold.

  31. Falling Diphthong*

    This does remind me a bit of a comment on the last post about working with someone who felt constantly vulnerable, in the bad sense, and was exhausting to work with because they needed constant comfort and reassurance. “I’m an emotional bomb! Just clearly going off all the time!” is an exhausting trait in a coworker. It can grate when people feel PEPPY all the time, and far more so when the broadcast-on-10 emotion is negative.

    This is like a cousin to “just because you have a passing thought doesn’t mean you have to share it.” Or to people reacting to the message on your T-shirt like you said it out loud. If people can see your face, and your face clearly conveys your feelings of anger, resentment, contempt, etc, then they are going to react to that.

  32. Emma*

    I have the exact same problem as OP. It gets worse when I am tired and stressed. I seriously resorted to Botox. It helps a bit against the raised eyebrows and angry frown, which I incidentally also make when I am thinking about something complicated.

    There are poker face tutorials on YouTube. Perhaps that can help? And also not being ambushed but have time to prepare a conversation you think might make you annoyed/angry.

  33. Jennifer*

    Is it possible to ask a friend outside of work to record you? It seems hard to beleive but it is possible to roll your eyes and not be aware of it.

    1. Sylvan*

      You can also record yourself reading part of a book out loud. I did this to see if something I had been told about my voice was true. (Someone who was VERY LOUD and VERY EXPRESSIVE said my voice was low and unexpressive. Nah, it’s normal.)

  34. Sylvan*

    OP, you say you can’t control your facial expressions at all, but you also say you decided to stop doing so a few years ago. That’s not exactly lining up.

    Anyway, you aren’t being asked to change your personality or to develop a perfect poker face. That would be pretty weird. You’re being asked to choose different behavior, like not rolling your eyes, the same way your coworkers control their own expressions or tone.

    This kind of thing is hard for me, too, but there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Looking into the social psychology concepts of “self-monitoring” might be helpful. It helped me see that it might be part of my personality, but it’s not like I’m wired completely different and unable to change.

    1. Annette*

      Good point Sylvan. I have never trusted people who ‘can’t control their face’ or even worse – ‘have no filter.’ Absent some fairly rare mental conditions. You have a filter. You just don’t feel like turning it on. Done.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        “Absent some fairly rare mental conditions. You have a filter. You just don’t feel like turning it on.”

        The AAM Commentariat sampler queue grows yet again… I love this.

  35. LDN Layabout*

    Yup. I’ve realised recently how much of my ‘actively listening’ face is nodding since I’ve moved to an organisation with a lot of homeworkers and end up doing it on non-video Skype calls.

    The head shake is the exact opposite of nodding along.

  36. RandomU...*

    Hi OP, I think me and you should hang out, we’d be able to fully communicate without words just by watching each others faces :) To give an example I’ve had people ask me what they did wrong when all I was doing was thinking of some random thing that has nothing to do with who I was with or where I was.

    I’ll get a few things off the table up front so I can focus on what I really want to share.
    1. Eye rolling, yeah, I have this bad habit too. You need to work on this (so do I). I’ve been described as having an ‘audible eye roll’. It’s a work in progress
    2. Lola- honestly, you are going to have to get past the irritation and annoyance at her. I’d find it very hard to do, in your shoes, but it has to be done.

    On to the rest of what I really wanted to say. I don’t think managers (or employees) need to change who they are in the work place. I think that managers have to temper who they are, but they shouldn’t be expected to turn off and on personality traits and become automaton drones when they enter the workplace each day. Your expressiveness comes from your facial expressions.

    One thing that struck me out of your letter was the bit about the self-esteem when you had tried in the past to regulate your facial expressions. That really stood out to me and quite honestly makes me mad on your behalf (I’m probably scowling right now as I write this). Since your workplace has decided to make an issue out of this you’re going to have to decide if you want to play the game enough to get them off your back. And truthfully that’s all I’d be willing to do in your shoes. I’m really curious what this facial expression coaching is going to consist of. Taking all bets that it comes down to being instructed to putting a pleasant smile on your face. I can only imagine the PIP paperwork “LW must not show negative expression or emotion on her face”

    I’m probably not helping at all with practical suggestions, but more than anything I wanted to let you know that you’re not the only one out there with ‘the wrong look on their face’.

    If it helps, I can say that I have advanced quite well in my career (including management), even if I can’t keep the ‘You’re an idiot” look off of my face for very long in some situations.

      1. RandomU...*

        I didn’t dismiss that at all. That’s specifically why I mentioned the eye rolling is something that does need to get under control, and working with Lola. It’s very clear, to me at least, that the LW is annoyed with Lola, both before and after this incident. I think it’s probably easier (and better) for the OP to figure out what it is about Lola that drives her annoyance and come to terms with that vs. spending time and effort hiding the fact that she’s annoyed with Lola.

        I don’t think that it’s always the wrong answer to show emotion, even the not positive ones.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, I read the “automaton drones” stuff and “the coaching can’t be legit; they’ll just tell you to smile” stuff as dismissive. Glad I am wrong!

          1. RandomU...*

            Well I am still curious about the coaching. I don’t have very high expectations for a random HR person coaching someone on how to modulate expression.

            As for the automaton drone comment, there is a tendency for some to think that once you become a manager you forgo any rights to showing emotions in the workplace. And I think that is unrealistic. Real people are also managers. Should they let their emotions rule them in the workplace, of course not, but are they allowed to have bad days, get caught being impatient, or even be silly and irreverent, some of the comments here seem to forget that fact.

            1. Snark*

              Yeah, but it’s kind of like comedy. You really have to read the room, and generally, it’s good to direct it up or sideways, not down.

              1. RandomU...*

                There’s truth in that. And I think I’m probably coming off as an ogre here that spends my time at work going through emotions like some weird improv show. I really am not, I promise. But I can attest to how exhausting it can be to put on a work mask and maintain it.

                Honestly, I know everyone here means well with their comments, but it’s even harder when you see comment after comment about “Oh you can’t ever do that” or “That thing is horrible and I’d never do that” maybe that makes sense for some of the more cut and dry letters we have, but for one describing showing emotion? C’mon, everyone has them and everyone shows them. Admittedly some better than others and there are most definitely lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

                To read the comments from some you’d think that everyone looks like a stepford wife while they are at work. I just don’t buy that and will admit that I’ve been known to roll my eyes or get a look on my face at work. I find it disingenuous for everyone to react like they have never done it, or that it’s somehow worse if a manager does it.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No one is saying that. It’s the difference between “I snapped at someone one time and then apologized” and “I snap at people on my team several times a week.”

                2. Snark*

                  Oh, it IS worse if a manager does it. Don’t think it isn’t. Everybody has a bad reaction once in a while. I went off in a fury at a brand-new entry level once, and it was baaaad. And of course we all have emotions and reactions. But there’s a difference, here, between “I can’t help myself regularly and openly showing strong disrespect and contempt for a coworker” and “One time I yelled at a 22 year old who screwed up to the tune of $25k” or “I have to take a moment with my eyes closed to let the initial reaction pass” or “I have really worked to keep my facial expression neutral even if I want to facepalm myself into a coma.”

                  And between all of those and “doop beep boop I am robot boss.”

                3. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

                  Managers really need to keep visibly hostile, annoyed, irritated reactions to lower rank staff in check. It is part of the burden of being in management and why those roles generally are paid more and have more responsibility.

                4. smoke tree*

                  I think the particularly helpful comments are the ones that suggest the LW consider looking deeper into her underlying frustrations and thinking about why she doesn’t feel able to address them in a more constructive way. Because apart from the fact that it’s rude to roll your eyes at a colleague, it’s also just going to compound all of your work issues if you feel that you can only make yourself heard by shaking your head and rolling your eyes rather than by trying to communicate directly if you have a concern.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No one is saying you must never ever let it be known you had a bad day. The OP is saying visible hostility is a default mode for her, and that’s a problem.

            3. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree that managers and employees are allowed to have bad days, but in order to have those you need to have many many more good days. If you have more bad than good days then it is a problem.

              1. Washi*

                That’s the thing. Realistically, people remember negative interactions much more strongly than positive ones, so you don’t have a ton of leeway with the “bad day” thing. Snapping then apologizing once or twice a year? Probably fine. But even if you only snap a couple times a month…people will remember that. The goal really has to be “no snapping” (understanding that you might slip up) rather than “it’s ok if it was a very very bad day.”

          1. Annette*

            Rolling eyes is the socially and professionally wrong way of showing emotion. In almost every situation. Nothing to do with drones. Try using words to show emotion instead. Radical idea.

            1. Sylvan*

              I think you meant to reply to someone else? I’m sorry if my comment came off very differently than I meant it.

    1. sticky note*

      You say you’ve advanced in your career, but if you’re comfortable openly showing contempt for people–I don’t think there’s much difference between openly saying “you’re an idiot” and non-verbally communicating it–do you think anyone really likes working with you?

      1. RandomU...*

        Sometimes =/= all the time.

        Yes, I’ve caught myself giving someone the ‘You’re an idiot” look before, on more than one occasion, in my career. If you honestly don’t think you’ve ever had that expression you are deluding yourself.

    2. shergak*

      I don’t agree that it’s a game that’s played in the office to not show disdain for your colleagues on your face. That just seems like the wrong attitude to take in this situation. Having an “you’re an idiot” look on your face is a pretty personal attack, and not something anyone would appreciate.

      1. Snark*

        Yes. Rolling one’s eyes, shaking your head, those are things you do. They are active, not passive. It’s really no different than blurting “dumbass” or heaving a giant sigh.

    3. Marthooh*

      I hope the OP gives us an update. I got fifty bucks here says HR will come up with something better than just “Smile pleasantly”.

      1. Batgirl*

        And even if OP thinks she needs a heavier hitter she’s welcome to find her own private professional.

        It doesn’t mean HR can’t coach her through this feedback. It’s the helpful thing for them to do.

  37. CO Mtns*

    Wow this sounds just like my coworker and she is so unpleasant to work with. She is rude, blunt, very direct, and is generally a pain to work with and people cannot approach her because she is often snappy/barks at them.

    I have known her for a few years and know this is how she is but am in 100% disagreement that it’s something you can’t change. She might not be able to make a complete 180 but small changes and creating new habits in your personality is something that is doable for everyone, it just takes time (years of change and practice). I have done it myself – transformed bad qualities into good ones (for example, being short with people and quick to be impatient when others come to me with questions. I have been impatient my whole life but now can sit back, relax, and answer questions without looking irritated for any amount of time. Another example: I used to get fired up very easily and my voice would raise. Now, I can be calm and collect my thoughts and professionally express any responses when things in the past would have fired me up.) I knew these were important qualities to fix because I have been on the receiving end of that and its not fun and made me not want to work with that person. I didn’t want to be someone who is not approachable or makes someone feel stupid for having a few questions.

    Perhaps therapy would work or start noticing what causes those behaviors from you and slowly start to adapt a new way of looking at things.

    1. CO Mtns*

      OP – you also mentioned doing this in the past wrecked your self esteem. You really have to let go of your ego when you want to make positive changes in your life like that. That is what is preventing you from making them.

  38. phira*

    “I started to shake my head because I couldn’t remember having done that …”

    So that’s part of the issue here, OP! You recognize that your expression wasn’t out of your control and that you weren’t 100% unaware of what you were doing. Alison and other commenters have great advice, which boils down to this: you need to reframe how you interact with people at work. Because that’s the problem.

    I have absolutely NO poker face (I think a lot of my students know what’s on the exam even when I tell them I don’t know, whoops), but I don’t get dinged on my evals for being dismissive or rolling my eyes, and you can bet that my students ask me some BS questions or do BS things. But since I began teaching, my number 1 mantra is always: my students are good people who mean well and are trying hard, and I need to respect that. If I didn’t have that mantra, you can bet I’d be rolling my eyes pretty constantly, and alienating my students.

    Lola is a person who works with you. She’s got a personal life and feelings and strengths and weaknesses, and she’s just trying to get through the day. Same for your boss. They are good people who mean well and are trying hard, and you need to respect that.

    You’d be surprised how much easier it’ll get to stop rolling your eyes or shaking your head at them.

    1. Batgirl*

      Fellow teacher, and one thing that’s always stayed with me is that not all students have happy lives and YOU might be the only non-angry face they see all day.

      After adopting this, I discovered a practical benefit. If you’re greeting them with a frown and responding to general frustrations by chewing a wasp – you’ve got nowhere to go when you really need to have that come to Jesus conversation.

      That’s why the most frustrating people need your best faces. I don’t know if this holds true for adults as well ..

  39. Former Help Desk Peon*

    Op, I did a LOT of customer service as a teenager/young adult, where I had to learn to mask my emotions. You don’t last long at retail jobs if you roll your eyes at idiotic customer requests (and you develop eye strain!). One thing that really helped me was to think about it as acting. When I hit the “front” of store or whatever, I was on stage and acting. In the kitchen/backroom, I could be myself. This kind of approach has become second nature, and I don’t think twice about it in my IT office job now; I don’t have to be “on” all the time, but there are certain people I work with that get the mask. And to be fair, I’m not acting like someone else, even then, just a version of myself that doesn’t think they’re irritating aliens from another dimension.

    1. KR*

      This! This is where I learned how to really modulate my face. Combined with parents who expected a total upbeat friendly attitude most of the time and considered anything less being rude unless there was a justification.

    2. Salamander*

      I learned a lot from those types of customer service jobs, and that was definitely valuable experience. There’s immediate feedback if one fails to do this – customer escalates, manager comes down on you, etc. I always thought of it as putting my “cashier hat” on and taking it off when I got off work, just like an apron or another part of the uniform.

    3. Princesa Zelda*

      This! If you come at it as though you’re playing a part, it creates a mental wall so that you can modulate your responses on a split-second delay.

    4. Alexander Graham Yell*

      YES! When I worked at Build-A-Bear in college (seriously, best workplace training EVER), they stole a Disney phrase – when you let your negative emotions show, you were “showing your mechanics” and taking away the magic. You weren’t creating something special, giving the kids the exciting, special experience they were there for, you were making it about you and your feelings, which muddied the experience for them. So if you were having trouble controlling your emotions/face/whatever (like the day my roommate/college BFF left me a voicemail detailing all the ways she hated me and had for months), you were allowed to take the time you needed in back to collect yourself so that when you were on the floor you were able to give 100%.

  40. gecko*

    OP, I think you may be having trouble with this because you’re communicating about your internal state with your face, and you’re thinking you have to replace that with a neutral, no-communication face. That IS really hard. Instead, I think you have to replace the communication face with a different communication face.

    This is going to sound extremely elementary-school, but the “listening look” is a real thing. It’s not a neutral face–it’s communicating “I’m listening to you and waiting until you’re done.” You are listening to the other person; you just need to show that on your face–and let it replace the derisive expressions that are causing problems.

    Your facial expressions right now are actively communicating things about your internal state. Continue to do that, but get your face to send more acceptable messages. “I’m listening” is one. “I’m thinking” is another. Basically anything other than “I’m planning to say a negative thing in a moment” or “you’re an idiot.”

  41. Cordoba*

    It may be worthwhile for LW to practice keeping their expressions neutral when there’s not a live audience who can see them. This way they can figure out what works for them without the risk of anybody being hurt if their expression slips.

    Some ways to do that:
    -Watch themselves in a mirror while on a phone call or non-video conference call; especially if they’re on this call with people who they usually find frustrating or difficult. Try to keep a neutral face.
    -Read/watch some editorials or news commentary from a pundit with whom they strongly disagree, the sort of person who would normally make them shake their head and roll their eyes. Again, watch their own expression in a mirror and make a conscious effort to absorb and process the objectionable message but not let their negative reaction to it show.
    -Watch a comedian or funny movie; try not to laugh
    -Actually *play* poker, or find some other activity with real but manageable stakes where there are direct advantages that result from controlling your emotional leakage

  42. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My way of keeping my facial expressions in a neutralized state when dealing with someone who would otherwise make me scowl and roll my eyes is to keep a quizzical smile on my face and inside I’m thinking “Poor soul, poor silly soul doesn’t know a darn thing does she, oh well, such is life…” Instead of letting it dig under my skin and register as frustration and contempt on my face.

    However my default is to feel soft towards those I take pity on. It’s not always the same with others. I would try to adjust to viewing her as something else [as Alison has also pointed out in her examples], it really works if you can trick your mind into it.

  43. Observer*

    I even decided being an open book could have its good points — I can’t play games, so everyone knows exactly where I stand.

    Schooling your face is not “playing games”. And there are a lot of time where people do not need to know exactly where you stand. In fact there are times where you SHOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT let people know exactly where you stand. Because doing that reflects badly on you and / or is rude.

    Lisa told you to modulate your expressions – she’s not asking you to change something fundamental about yourself, but to change a very specific behavior. She’s not mandating a poker face – she’s mandating that you stop making faces and motions that are rude and disruptive to reasonable conversations.

    And, yes, if you can’t or won’t rein it in, you’re going to have a really hard time with any sort of management, and even probably collaborative work in any sort of healthy environment.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      “yes, if you can’t or won’t rein it in, you’re going to have a really hard time with any sort of management, and even probably collaborative work in any sort of healthy environment.”

      Yeah, agreed. It really sounds as though OP is attaching a lot of personal significance to this level of expressiveness – “this is just the way I am”, “not playing games”, self-esteem issues when she tries to rein it in, etc. Those are all really charged ways to talk about something like not rolling your eyes at colleagues you don’t like.

      OP, if you truly believe this to be a fundamental, immutable part of your personality, that’s fine. You are free to do that. But you will also have to accept that if that’s true then it will impact your career in, well, exactly the way that you’re seeing it do now. You can’t act in ways that you obviously do know are not considered professional and expect everyone to act as though you’re being professional. You can’t have it both ways.

  44. Garland not Andrews*

    I find the “how do you react at funerals” to be a problem. I’m in my mid 50’s and have been to less than a dozen funerals in my entire life. Funerals are just not common enough in some people’s lives to be a valid reference.
    Is there a more common situation we can use as a comparer?

    1. Lis*

      Fortunately there are literally three other common situations used in the same sentence:
      -Meeting a VIP
      -In a house of worship, if you’re religious
      -With a child

      Consider yourself blessed! I have been to well over a dozen funerals (I’d say one or two a year within my memory) and I’m not even thirty.

    2. bonkerballs*

      Alison already gave like three other comparisons in that same sentence: meeting a VIP client, talking to a child, attending a house of worship if you’re religious.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Then how do you respond to finding out someone is gravely ill?

      You don’t need to be so literal. People don’t have to die, have you ever visited someone in a hospital or found out someone’s infant is in ICU? Come on now, you’re being so literal.

      I say this as someone who’s 35 who’s been to a ton of funerals. I’m glad you haven’t experienced that much death in your life but that’s not the norm.

    4. Amber Rose*

      Well, the other problem is that I react to funerals by sobbing, which is not really helpful at work either. xD

      I would say maybe how do you react to children, if you interact with them much. Because they can be rude, ridiculous and annoying, but it’s mean and inappropriate to scoff at them. Not that you should treat coworkers like kids, but the same idea of regulating your reactions more or less applies.

    5. Observer*

      Well, if you’ve been to half a dozen, you do know how you react at them. And it’s not the only reference that Allison used, either.

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I’ve been to exactly zero funerals, ever. But come on! I can still imagine for myself what it would be like to be at one, and how I might comport myself in accordance with the emotional weight and solemnity of the occasion.

    7. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Alison mentioned several other situations “Similarly, are there any circumstances where you do manage to control the emotions on your face? Meeting a VIP? In a house of worship, if you’re religious? At a funeral? With a child?”

      This seems like an not everyone can have sandwiches issue.

    8. Koala dreams*

      I agree with you, but for another reason. People show so many different emotions at funerals! Sobbing, crying, looking sad, looking angry at fate for taking away someone too early, gazing into the void, smiling at hearing something touching, laughing at funny memories of the deceased.

  45. KR*

    Hi OP, a suggestion I have is to find a podcast or news pundit or public speaker. Someone you totally disagree with. Someone who’s very voice grates on you, a topic that makes you incredibly visibly irritated. Or even watch a show that just gets you fired up emotionally – Law & Order SVU is a good one for me because the bad guys are so heinous. Then sit in front of a mirror and practice not having an reaction in your face. Make it your goal to be as calm and emotionless as possible with the exception of “active listening” cues like nodding, making eye contact, ect. Good luck. I wear my heart on my sleeve too and it’s hard.

  46. Jam Today*

    Working with people who cannot modulate their behavior in the workplace, and do things like roll their eyes, pinch the bridge of their nose, etc. while their coworkers are talking is the worst. Their behavior is actively disrespectful bordering on hostile, and constantly puts everyone else on defense, so all the surrounding players spend half again as much energy trying to justify their own work as they did actually doing it.

    You are absolutely right, OP, that there may be professional consequences for you if you don’t make real effort not to do things like this because I guarantee there are actual consequences happening for the people around you right now, as a result of your current behavior.

  47. Janet Snakehole*

    I don’t love the “asking around for names” bit–but otherwise, I feel very strongly that it is completely acceptable to ask people to modulate their reactions to things at work. I once had an employee who rolled her eyes and snapped at people regularly in the moment, and then acted as if everyone around her was more responsible for her reactions than she was because she just “wore her emotions on her sleeve.” I did end up firing her, FWIW, as she was creating a toxic work environment for the rest of my team.

    I suspect that people who do this don’t realize that MANY of us “wear our emotions on our sleeves” as a natural state, but work hard to control our emotions at work. For example, I’ve learned that a physical reaction I have to being very angry about something is to cry. While I don’t think that people should be pilloried for crying at work they way they often are (esp women!), I recognize that it’s not a great look, and have worked really hard on controlling how I process my reactions. While this might sound extreme, I’d actually encourage LW to seek out a therapist or coach if she has not already–not necessarily to control the facial expressions/eye rolling but to talk through the reactions and how there might be better ways to manage them in the moment. Especially because she indicates that she HAS worked on this in the past with frustrating results–that’s for sure the time to call in an expert, as I think just trying on her own again will lead to more pain for her than it’s worth.

  48. animaniactoo*

    OP, it is perfectly fine to accept your “you are who you are and this is not happening and it will take so much effort that it will make me miserable with little success” evaluation of yourself in terms of being a facially open book. What’s not fine is concluding that the poker face that you can’t develop is the only way to address the bad effect that you’re leaving behind, and stopping there.

    Towards that: It sounds like part of the issue is that you have *already formed your reaction* before the other person is done speaking, and your face reflects that. If you can take on addressing that, your face is much more likely to fall in line.

    So for instance, in the meeting with Lisa where you immediately started making the face and shaking your head? If you had instead cultivated the habit of *listening* with the idea that you may not immediately know the answer and you are waiting for more information, your face would reflect that. You wouldn’t have started shaking your head, because you’d still be listening for where else Lisa thought that it had come up, and so on.

    If you hear Lola’s ideas with the perspective that she sees something you don’t, you might frown with concentration looking for it, but it’s more likely to look like an inquisitive frown and you’re probably not going to make the grimace of disagreement and the eyeroll of “oh please”. Bonus points are that when you DO rebut her suggestion, you are more likely to give respect to what she was looking at and address it in your disagreement, or incorporate it into an alternate suggestion. Both of those possibilities are better for you, and your co-workers and company in terms of effectively planning and strategizing and so on.

    Will you still be too much of an open book if you do this? Yes, probably. But at a much lower level than you are now, and you can then look for ways to mitigate how much is left, IF it is actually worth addressing at that point.

    1. Tau*

      +1000. I have done OP’s exact calculation of “attempting to change this thing has proven to have too high a cost for too little outcome, I and my surroundings are going to have to deal with it as it is” for other things, so I do have quite a bit of sympathy for her on that point and am inclined to take her at her word. However, when you take this sort of stance you’re obliged to get creative when it comes to any problems that result. In this case, it’s utterly inappropriate to appear noticeably dismissive or contemptuous of a colleague, and if you cannot stop those emotions from appearing on your face the only thing left is that you can’t feel dismissive or contemptuous of colleagues.

      FWIW, this is how I manage at work. I also have a very expressive face, and one of my “refuse to change” points is that I refuse to sink any more work into nonverbal communication than I already have, so it’s going to stay that way. The result is that I emotionally self-edit a lot, especially at work. Thoughts like “what, is she stupid?” or “why on earth would anyone do X like this?” or “no, he’s definitely wrong” get killed immediately to be replaced by something kinder and more collaborative. Occasional slip-ups in professional mode can be smoothed over with an apology.

  49. Anonyna*

    OP, if Obama can smile pleasantly while greeting Donald Trump at the White House then you can too. It’s worth mentioning that Lola probably has been brushing this off for while. Really, no one wants to go to their boss in a professional setting and say “this coworker is draining to be around and I’m asking you to intervene” so there’s a good chance this was the final straw for her. Really reflect on your behaviour and think how you’d react to a coworker grimacing at your words every time you spoke. I had to learn to hold my face waiting tables back in university, I promise you can too.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      To be honest, I think Lola is a poor employee herself and has zeroed in on one of OP’s weak spots to give herself the Moral High Ground. This is a common trademark of manipulative low performers, latching on to something vague to deflect from the errors they made. Ex: It’s OK for me to turn up three hours late for my teaching shift, because you sounded annoyed when you asked why I was late.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s definitely a possibility, and I also think there are plenty of people who happily go to their bosses to request colleagues be told not to be mean to them. But as you intimate, OP needs to make sure she doesn’t discard the message just because of the messenger here.

      2. DCompliance*

        Possible. I have to seen this before. However, all the more reason OP needs to fix the things she admits are flaws in herself. A good way around this is to see if HR or OP’s will be willing to be in the room when negative feedback is given to Lola. If OP can work on her expressions and their is a witness, it is harder for an employee to do this.

      3. smoke tree*

        I imagine that Lola is probably annoying and frustrating to work with, but the LW admits that this is an issue in her personal life too. Some of your colleagues or clients are bound to be annoying and frustrating, and your default can’t be openly showing contempt for them. I don’t think the LW contests this really, but she just isn’t sure she will be able to rein it in and perhaps isn’t sure how much emotional regulation is expected at work.

      4. The Supreme Troll*

        I tend to get this vibe myself…I think the quality of Lola’s performance as an employee is majorly slipping through the cracks!

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          I meant the issue of Lola’s performance. I think it really does have a lot to do with why the OP is acting the way she is (and that is why I’m maybe making a small excuse for the OP here in this situation).

  50. About that eye-rolling*

    Ugh, I’ve had a former boss say that I roll my eyes but I wasn’t rolling my eyes at all! I even asked her to point it out to me when she catches me doing it and she did point it out a few times. However, when she called it out, I wasn’t rolling my eyes at her (or even upset/mad at that point in time to be doing so!), it’s just my eyeballs moving! I’m saying this because maybe in part, the OP also unconsciously does something with her eyes/her eyes move in a way that looks like eye-rolling?

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      I had a former manager tell me that looking upward when I think about something was disrespectful. Maybe she thought I was rolling my eyes?

    2. Joielle*

      That’s happened to me too! It turns out I was sort of looking up with my eyeballs while thinking about how to respond, but I can see how it would look like an eye roll. Definitely something to consider.

      1. About that eye-rolling*

        But that would just look like “I’m thinking about something?” Either way, thank you for your comment, I appreciate feeling less “alone” in some of these situations!

  51. Manders*

    I used to be a work cryer (although in retrospect, some of the situations I cried at were genuinely pretty upsetting, like being yelled at) and the way I stopped was by carrying a notebook and getting in the habit of writing at every meeting. Sometimes I really was writing notes about the meeting–but during the really bad times when I was completely fed up, I’d be writing a to-do list of things I needed to do to job hunt, or a grocery list, or an outline for a story I wanted to write.

    I really recommend picking this habit up if you have a hard time controlling your face in meetings. Everyone thinks you’re being extra attentive because you look like you’re taking notes, and it’s much easier to glance down at a notebook with a neutral expression than it is to maintain eye contact with someone who’s upsetting you.

    1. Dasein9*

      Yep! Years ago, I developed a way of writing that nobody else can read. Having to focus on it and choose words helps me gain distance on the emotions. If I didn’t have this system, I’d probably write what I was thinking in perfect penmanship, then make sure to scratch it out so nobody else would be able to read it.

  52. VelociraptorAttack*

    Flashback to my younger self. I was in discussion for a promotion and was told that the feedback was that there were concerns due to the fact that I was “prickly”. This was putting it extremely mildly. It was the first time that it was brought to my attention that my general, as OP says “intensity” was holding me back professionally. It was not the “I’m focused and I get things done” benefit I thought it was.

    And you know what, I was super defensive when I first heard it but I’ve worked on it and I’m comfortable saying that I’ve made strides and am able to hide my emotions and behave much more professionally. It’s not easy and I can’t even say what I did to work on it and try to lighten up but I think it started by recognizing that it IS something I do and that being seen as super intense was not exactly doing me any favors. Being seen as something as an ass wasn’t something to be okay with, it certainly wasn’t gaining me any respect, and it’s something I had to change personally and professionally.

    Long story short, yeah, it is something you need to work on, good luck.

    1. Kathenus*

      Yes! My best and worst qualities are absolutely different sides of one coin. My passion/intensity/drive is something that makes me good at what I do. And when not regulated/controlled it is what has gotten me into trouble.

      In the past I’ve had similar comments – I was coming across as pushy/abrasive/intense in interpersonal situations – primarily because I was letting my career passion and drive overtake my relationship skills. It took a long time to improve, the first step (which to be honest took me a few years), was to actually accept that I needed to change and improve in this area. I kept seeing my drive as a good thing, and if people thought I was too intense that was their problem not mine, because my intensity came from a good place of wanting to be really good at my career.

      Once I was old/mature enough to accept that having better interpersonal skills was also part of my job, and was my responsibility, I began to have the tools to change and improve. And as others have mentioned, it was a matter of looking at specific behaviors where I needed to improve, not that I needed to change my personality. I don’t know where you are on your own journey towards this, but I hope you’ll reflect and use this situation as a way to continue to evolve in your interpersonal relationships. It can be a long road but it is so, so worth it – and I speak from experience. I’m still not perfect, and slip into old habits at times, but now people generally see it as a ‘blip’ versus my default setting. Good luck.

    2. Batgirl*

      What’s the ‘intensity’ thing all about though? Is it just a case of appearing visually unhappy because you’re clucking and tutting at everything or is it actual stress and unhappiness?

  53. Madge*

    Maybe the solution doesn’t have to be about your facial expressions. What if you treat it as a symptom of a larger thing and work on that? My thought is you might only have problems in tense or stressful situations. You could be more comfortable and confident with your direct reports and so you aren’t seeing problems there. And they also have more opportunities to know you and discount your facial expressions with lots of positive experiences. But certainly the meeting with Lisa and Kate would have been uncomfortable. And those people who pick apart facial expressions in meetings sound delightful. With Lola you could have a default level of tension as you anticipate her annoying you.

    If you treat this problem as a managing tension and stress problem then your solutions can be applied before you reach the point where you’re making faces. You could practice a relaxing breathing technique that you can use anytime you’re in a potentially stressful situation. If you use it as you’re walking to the meeting or when you see Lola then you might not reach eye-rolling levels. You could also have a bit of fun with it and practice with someone who will read to you eye-rolling headlines and new items and you practice calm breathing and not rolling your eyes. Good posture could also be a nice physical cue for you to be calm and watch your reactions. And you could take a fresh air break before or after a meeting just to get away for a moment so you don’t build tension throughout the day.

    I’d also take a few minutes and think about what specifically irks you about Lola. If you can define it in your mind then you might find ways to fix it or come up with scripts that help you react better. Also try and think of a few things you like and appreciate about her or that she does well and work positive things into your conversations with her. You may never be office buddies but it could lessen the tension between you.

  54. "It's just how I was."*

    I used to be very firmly in the “it’s just how I am!” camp. But as I grew professionally, worked with different people, noticed how I came across in certain situations, and took on-board feedback, I realised that how I act when I work with others is part of professional development and growth. Soft skills vs hard skills. Non-verbal communication in the workplace is a skill that people have to learn, just as much as learning how to use different software packages, or teapot manufacturing techniques, for example.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Someone in another post referred to your work persona as “You-Lite” — in other words, not being “not yourself” but also being a very lightweight version of yourself. I really like that imagery when it comes to the “that’s just how I am” discussion.

  55. JustaTech*

    Can we please differentiate between actively unproductive/unkind facial expressions and the idea that having anything other than a doll’s face at work makes you a monster?

    Specific methods and tools are more helpful to OP (and anyone else who worries they have a similar situation) than the classic “just don’t do it”. Clearly if it were easy to just “not have facial expressions” then the OP wouldn’t have written in.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Nobody’s telling OP to not have facial expressions. They’re telling OP to not roll their eyes and shake their head dismissively at people. Regulating your facial expressions is not the same as eliminating them.

    2. Observer*

      Straw man comments like this are really not helpful to the OP.

      Most of the comments here are of two types. One set is actually pointers to specific tactics that people have found to be helpful. The other set is not “just do it” but pointing out various factors of WHY she should do it.

      And “it” is not to get rid of all facial expressions – in fact several commenters have explicitly pointed out that developing a poker face is not necessarily the goal she should be working towards.

    3. Snark*

      The doll face thing is a total straw man. Nobody is suggesting or implying anything of the sort.

    4. T*

      I think there’s a huge leap between behaving like a robot and not being rude to people who report to you. If you’re the boss, you’re allowed to be human, but you can’t be rude and roll your eyes and be condescending I get we all have bad days, but being professional is tantamount to being a manager.

    5. JustaTech*

      And this is what comes from *feeling* rather than reading. To me, as a person who has a hard time controlling my facial expressions, it *feels* like a lot of people here were saying that all expressions are bad.

      Except you’re not. And when I read it calmly I can see that.

      1. Anonym*

        It’s hard to read it right the first time when something hits close to home! Many of us understand that one. Kudos for doubling back and not down.

        (Reminder to self to do that more often…)

  56. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    This sounds rough. You mentioned this issue affecting your self-esteem, so it must hurt a lot. I don’t have any advice, just wishing you lots of luck and hope you have some support in your life.

  57. Kira*

    I’m definitely someone who shows my emotions on my face too. What has helped me is 1) consciously taking a deep breath whenever I feel an expression coming on. It may be slightly noticeable, but its more along the lines of a slight frown than an actual eye roll and 2) like Alison said, viewing the person as what I call a “puppy”, someone to just deal with but not someone who actually affects me or my emotions or anything like that. You don’t get mad at a puppy, they don’t know what they’re doing, same here.

    This is what I got out of my stint in consulting.

  58. Bostonian*

    One thing that will go a long way is to have a conversation with Lola and tell her that you care about your working relationship, and you want to be able to work well together. And own up to where you admit in your letter you’ve gone wrong: “I’m sorry that I’ve been short and rude with you”. It can be really disarming to hear this, and it will probably help to take some of the tension out of future interactions. I think a quick, genuine conversation like this can help you both give each other the benefit of the doubt moving forward.

    1. LadyofLasers*

      This is great advice and a really good in-between step while you’re working on the real problem! It might even be worth talking about your struggle with not sighing and rolling eyes, to help her see it’s not personal to her.

    2. Batgirl*

      Does anyone else feel like a direct ‘clear the air’ conversation with Lola early on would have been much less of a conflict than waiting for things to enter BEC territory?

  59. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    And if I can’t do it to her satisfaction, she won’t let me move up or, worse, she’ll get rid of me.

    I really wanna highlight this for you, OP, because… it’s actually really rational that you might not move forward in your career if you can’t get a handle on this! Most jobs get more reliant on interpersonal skills as you move up the food chain, and if you’re not willing to work on your ability to be pleasant with others when you don’t necessarily feel pleasant toward them…. then it’s a pretty natural consequence that you won’t make it very far into the kind of jobs where you need to be able to do that.

    At the end of the day, you’re being told what you need to do to progress in (or possibly stay in) your role — learn to restrain your reactions when you don’t like what you’re hearing. It can be hard! It sounds like it is hard, for you. But I’m not convinced that you’re 100% incapable of it, and maybe you need to make a better-faith effort to re-train yourself and your body language.

  60. mf*

    OP, I don’t think your boss is asking you to show no emotion whatsoever. She’s just asking you to tone it down. You can look displeased or even upset but you can’t appear openly contempt of other employees. So try to stop thinking of this as developing a poker face and instead frame it as needing to bring down your reactions by 10-20%.

    I also think that if you only work on controlling your facial expressions, you are dealing with the symptom, not the disease. The crux of the problem is: why do you feel contempt for Lola? Once you figure out the answer, you can try to develop some compassion towards her. If you make a genuine contempt to feel/act compassionately towards her, that will also show in your facial expressions.

  61. R.D.*

    If feel myself rolling my eyes when I know that I shouldn’t, I close them and take a breath.

    It’s not a poker face. People can tell I am trying to compose myself. It’s not great, but the message “I am trying to compose myself” is much better than the message of “I think you are an idiot”, which is what the eye roll sends.

    Just don’t sigh while you are doing it. The exasperated sigh is as bad as the eye roll.

    I consider it a stop gap while I work on NOT rolling my eyes. Usually it’s my six year old that causes it, so I know if she sees the eye roll, I will see it pointed directly back at me tomorrow.

    1. Yet another Kat*

      This is GREAT advice!

      I have a coworker who has similar issues to OP (eye rolling, head shaking, dismissive huffing) as well as being clearly very eager to interrupt people in meetings whenever she thinks they might be wrong (often a misunderstanding.) Recently, she has started to check herself, and write down a note i her notebook, when this behavior starts. Even though it’s not a perfect solution (we can still tell that she is having a negative response) I personally really appreciate seeing her do this because:
      – it acknowledges that the other behavior is not OK
      – it signals that she is trying to work on it

      OP, please consider taking any steps to modify your behavior, even if they are a far cry from a “perfect poker face”. People appreciate trying!

  62. Kaffeekocherin*

    I feel you, OP. I have been described as being intense and being intimidating, even though I didn’t (and still don’t always) see myself that way. I’m opinionated, very self-confident and don’t take s**t from anybody, which got me into a lot of trouble when I first started working as a legal secretary and would reply to rude clients in kind. I would openly roll my eyes, huff, and did not have a filter between my brain and my mouth. I had no poker face and – honestly? – I wasn’t interested in having one since I WANTED someone to know that I was pissed off/annoyed. Some reactions were conscious, but many were unconscious or automatic – almost like a reflex.

    Of course, my bosses were not happy with a rude/unfriendly assistant and I had to learn to be professional and not wear my heart (and my annoyance) on my sleeve. It took a lot of practice, but now I’m know for being ultra professional with clients and am the jerk whisperer at work – I get sent to the a-hole lawyers because I can deal with almost anybody.

    What really helped me to manage my reactions was to not frame it as stifling my natural reactions and intensity, but that I was harnessing my powers. Being self-confident and direct can be helpful in many interactions, but I had to learn to control myself and focus my energy/reactions. Additionally, it helped when I forced myself to step outside of myself and reflect on how my reactions must feel for others. I would feel really rotten if a coworker or boss would openly roll their eyes at me or at my work. It would really, really sting if somebody responded as harshly to me as I had been responding to others. I would feel demoralized if my manager would shake their head vehemently before I had the chance to explain myself or while presenting a project.

    I can control a lot of my reactions, but my face is still a traitor sometimes: My left eyebrow will seemingly raise on its own when I’m annoyed or think something is bs, and my face still is quite expressive – so I have to constantly practice and check myself, especially when I’m feeling vulnerable or stressed. In the beginning, it helped me when my direct colleague would tell me if something sounded harsh or mean, so I could adjust my tone or phrasing (since for me, what I had said didn’t sound mean to me). It also helped me to have her tell me what my face was doing and for me to slow down and to consciously change my expression. I also used to practice my “neutral” face in the mirror at home (I did this while watching off the wall reality shows that would normally have me screaming WTF at my TV, so I could picture really unhinged client reactions).
    To control my facial expression now, it helps me to slightly bite the inside of my cheeks, or avert my gaze, quickly regroup and then look up again. If I were you, OP, I would work with HR (since they offered you a coaching), but maybe there is the possibility to get coaching outside of the office?

    1. fposte*

      Kaff, this is another really helpful comment. I love how you used externals in your retraining–I think it’s smart to realize that you don’t independently know when you’ve calibrated correctly, because learning to calibrate correctly is part of what you’re learning.

    2. Snark*

      Strong plug for averting your gaze. I do this a LOT when in a confrontation or when I feel annoyance rising.

    3. Kathenus*

      Great reply Kaffeekocherin. I like the harnessing your powers framing. For me, I’ve termed it as ‘using my powers for good instead of evil’ regarding trying to turn my intensity in positive ways and reign in the areas where it was hurting me with my interpersonal relationships. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    4. smoke tree*

      It’s a great idea to reframe this as a question of behaving strategically at work and harnessing your abilities, rather than repressing your emotions. It’s not a question of authenticity, it’s a question of how you want to manage your interactions at work. Rolling your eyes really obviously is just as much of a performance as maintaining a facade of good cheer, but the difference is that it’s not a performance that will benefit you in any way.

    5. Batgirl*

      “I WANTED someone to know that I was pissed off/annoyed”

      Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!

      Even if you logically don’t want this, the heart wants what it wants.

  63. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    As someone with both RBF and NO poker face (or poker voice as we have most of our meetings over the phone), I get it. I really do. I haven’t had it get me into any major trouble at work, but I have been spoken to about it. But based on your letter it seems that you have an all or nothing attitude for this – you say when you made an effort to control your face, it forced your self esteem to go in the toilet. But being aware of and controlling your facial expressions doesn’t mean you have to stop being who you are. You just have to find a happy medium, because while it’s good to always be yourself, at work a lot of times you have to tone it down a few notches to fit in professionally.

  64. sb51*

    If you can start to recognize when you’re doing it, you can at least have some occasional excuses ready as you try to improve your reactions. I’m not 100% great at avoiding showing irritation/frustration, but when I catch myself scowling at everything, I’ve occasionally just said “sorry, I have a headache, what was that again?” and react better the second time. (Which is often also true, as being irritated all day will give me a headache. Or just “it’s been a long day, could you run that by me again?” In both cases, it disguises irritation as incomprehension, which aren’t that different (at least on my face).

    Mostly I try to redirect emotions, because I have no poker face either, and the concentration it takes to have one completely removes my ability to hear and comprehend words.

  65. Sarah*

    I’ve worked in VERY similar organizations and gotten VERY similar feedback. I could have been OP writing this exact letter at a couple of points in my career. I think the feedback on professionalism is really important – as someone said, you want to be able to decide how you’re portraying yourself, not let your reactions portray you without your conscious decision. HOWEVER. Based on only my own experience, I would be careful to temper that. I was very close, more than once, to really losing a lot of myself in the service of trying to mold into the employee that people wanted. I felt like such a failure for not being able to achieve it – only to realize, in hindsight, that they were NOT people whose judgment I should have trusted, and I was far better being my imperfect self than being what they said was right. I don’t want OP to think they should shrug off negative feedback – it’s very important! – but I also wanted to make sure there was a vote for “don’t lose yourself in the process.” As much of a total cliche as that is, it would have been really important for me to know earlier on.

    1. Deb Morgan*

      Sure, but “I’m just being myself!” is not a great justification for being openly hostile to your coworkers, even if it’s unintentional. An eye roll is probably not ever going to be okay in a professional setting, so OP should focus on stopping that pronto (and there are some great tips above since the OP doesn’t notice it happening).

  66. Expressive Teacher*

    I am very expressive at times, and a teacher which, as you can imagine, doesn’t always create the perfect combination (I swear that my students notice every expression I make) especially when a student asks the same question for the 100th time after you’ve just explained it yet again, for example. What works for me is actively choosing for myself certain thoughts that will instantly save my reaction. So, in the split second before I answer 100th-time question student, I will take a moment to think about something that I know always makes me happy so I answer with a smile. If a student says something funny but very inappropriate in some way, I will think about something solemn before I respond, so my approach is appropriate.

    I wonder if you, the LW, struggle with feeling that doing this is fake, since you said that at least people always know where they stand with you. The difference to remember is that you don’t have to hide emotions “all the time.” If I am sad, I may show it, but I tell my students why I am sad so they know it isn’t something they have done. Same thing if I may be a little irritated that day due to a health condition – they know about that, too, though vaguely and in an age-appropriate manner. I think the key is not being emotional AT someone. So, you can be thoughtful, frustrated, angry, sad or anything else, but don’t direct it at Lola or any other co-worker.

  67. Batgirl*

    OP could you possibly be in fight or flight mode? It’s just that the examples cited sound like you kind of felt under attack and needed to react immediately.

    First Lola, who is talented and ‘telling you how to do your job’, then Lisa your boss, claiming you did something, which from your recollection wasn’t true.

    The good news, if so? You can totally learn not to do F&F in certain situations (even though it’s hardwired into all of us) like how scuba divers learn how to clear their mask when it floods, instead of panicking.

    Just like learning that the mask-flood is a manageable situation; so is Lola. So is being course corrected by Lisa. Instead of trying to police your face all day long, concentrate on these conflict hiccups. Whenever you sense conflict, sloooow your roll. The longer you take to consider and respond, the better.

  68. Me*

    Instead of focusing on controlling your face, focus on controlling your emotions.

    Most work interactions really should not provoke deep emotions. It’s work.

    Frame it as working on having a healthier emotional response to minor aggravations and inconveniences. Don’t discount the value of therapy to help with this type of stuff.

  69. Malarkey01*

    There are so many great suggestions here. One thing that might also help is to work on great active listening skills. The eye rolling and head shaking show that you are making decisions and judgements and being dismissive while others are still talking (which is a totally normal human reaction but not a good approach), but if you improve your active listening skills it slows you down and you focus more on what’s being said instead of already judging. That may help your face from rushing to negative faces and moving towards more positive active listening expressions.

    I think that plus changing how you view and frame interactions will naturally improve your expressions.

  70. MuseumChick*

    I don’t have much to add to the excellent advice in the above comments. OP, this is just one of those things that is expected in the working world. Sort of like how saying “sorry” is often not really about apologizing for something but rather a social balm that makes interactions easier, controlling your facial expressions is about making the interactions between people in the office easier. And it can be HARD. Years ago I was taking some night classes, got to be friends with one of the other women and we started hanging out. About a year later she offhandedly mentioned she had been intimidated by me when classes first started. I was really shocked and asked her why. I still remember what she said verbatim: “Well, now I know it’s just your “I’m listening” face but when someone who be making a point in class your express was more like “why are you talking?” I was shocked and more then a little mortified. I worked really hard to add a very light small smile to my face when listening to someone to try and help mitigate that.

    Keep communication open with you manager and what you are doing to work on this. As for feedback on it regularly.

  71. Secretary*

    The other commenters are giving great suggestions on how to fix this long term, I have some suggestions for what to do right away while this is fresh.

    1) This is the hardest tip, but try not to keep at the front of your mind that your boss is talking to your coworkers. Even if they are, trust that your relationships with your coworkers will speak for itself. “Everyone is afraid to approach her” is the kind of thing someone says to try to give their opinion more weight, it’s good that your boss is calling that bluff.

    2) When interacting with coworkers, if you catch yourself saying something that could be taken badly, name it:

    You: “Jane, please get this back to me by Monday.”
    [Jane’s eyes widen and her eyes snap to the screen]
    You: “I’m sorry Jane that came out harsher than it did in my head. What I should have said is Hey, do you mind getting this back to me by Monday?”
    Jane: “Oh no problem OP, I wasn’t offended but thank you.”
    You: “Thanks Jane, it’s something I’m working on. Talk to you later!

    3) When you must interact with Lola, have a plan of how you’ll interact with her before you walk over to her. Plan for what frustrating responses she may have so you know what body language and response you’ll have. Alison’s tips about seeing her in a certain light will help with this.

  72. LGC*

    …there’s a lot going on here with this letter.

    So, on the direct thing, I’ve scanned the comments, but…LW, have you asked someone to take video of you when you’re talking? One thing that jumped out at me is that you did a lot of the same stuff with Lisa as you did with Lola without even realizing. To quote:

    I started to shake my head because I couldn’t remember having done that, and Lisa said I was making the face right then, shaking my head and not listening.

    I think you’re aware that you don’t hide your disapproval well, but I’m not sure if you’re aware just how your nonverbals are coming across.

    On that note: I’d suggest that you pretend you’re in a play when you have to interact with Lola. It sounds like Lola has her own issues to work out herself – I’m reading a bit of insecurity into your portrayal of her, and it doesn’t come out in the best way on her end. So, it sounds like she’s not being condescending at you, but that she’s insecure about her feelings. (Also, if you can, acting classes!)

  73. LaDeeDa*

    Being self-aware and understanding how your actions, behaviors, and words are being perceived is key to being a good leader. Their perspective of you is their reality. It is real for them, and if you have gotten this feedback multiple times, from different people in different organizations, then this is a problem you need to address.
    As Alison said, rolling your eyes or sighing are aggressive, dismissive, and not appropriate in the workplace. When your manager addressed the specific behavior that was of concern you did the very behavior and then got defensive about it. It is time to take a hard look at what you are doing– and again, while it isn’t your intention, it is how it is being interpreted.
    To start making those changes I would look for some online free communication style assessments such as Tracom, a mini- DISC, or ask your HR rep if they will pay for a formal one to be done. You can even set your laptop in front of you in a meeting and video record yourself so you can SEE how you are reacting, to whom, and identify if there is a pattern.
    This is something you can change… You must commit to active listening, you must focus on empathy, compassion, and truly believing that people have good intentions, you must be open to dissenting opinions, play close attention to the non-verbal cues people are giving back to you- if they suddenly stop speaking and pull back or look puzzled- why??, and when things go wrong- when you slip back into your old behaviors own it, apologize for it, and commit to developing those skills.
    Good luck!!

  74. OrigCassandra*

    OP, I’m another one who’s been rightly called out for this (among other things). Two suggestions, in addition to all the truly excellent advice above:

    * Take a good hard look at how viable your job is for you. The job where I got called out… wasn’t, for me. I’m much better-behaved now that I’m someplace I’m not routinely undermined and devalued!

    * I survived the remainder of my tenure in that job by keeping a small physical token with me to remind me not to let my frustration show. For me it was a ring, but of course many other things could serve the purpose. Resting my eyes on it helped me school the rest of my demeanor.

    Good luck. I won’t tell you this is easy, because for me it certainly wasn’t. I do want to add my voice to other commenters’, though: fixing this may not be easy, but it IS possible, and you absolutely don’t have to give up your self-concept to do it.

  75. Lepidoptera*

    I’m seeing several “practice in the mirror” comments, so I want to share something a professional photographer taught me: the mirror itself is a tool, not the study lesson itself.

    When you’re in these situations, you can’t actively monitor yourself via mirror. The mirror should be used to gain the expression you’re trying to create–then, PUT IT DOWN and learn how that face FEELS. Learn to form the expression by feel alone. Relying on the mirror as a crutch should only be temporary.

  76. Jenna P.*

    I am totally on-board with all the comments about having to work on this, but as you do take steps to work on the issue, evaluate your work environment as well. Is this a place where you are just having specific issues with Lola, but feel like you get along with most of your other coworkers and managers? Are there issues with the company or the type of work that you are doing that cause you a lot of frustration?

    I am very good at managing my emotions and working well with others, not just a humblebrag but it has been brought up as a strength by various managers over the years so I know I am doing fine. But then I had to work with a super toxic team of people at my previous job and all of that fell apart. I suddenly couldn’t control my frustration in a productive way, was always angry when dealing with them and let it show. Cried at work multiple times (luckily not in front of them) when I had never done so before. No matter how many tips my boss gave me about managing my emotions, I just couldn’t do it. So I left and my sanity returned. I am now in a position without a toxic group of people to deal with and I have regained control over my emotions.

    So while I am not trying to minimize the fact that you need to work on this, because you do, make sure that you have a supportive environment to do so in.

  77. Potato Girl*

    Those of you who mentioned practicing keeping a small smile at all times, how did you avoid the facial spasms? Or do you just learn to live with them?

    I, like my mother and grandmother and aunts, have a mouth that turns down at the corners. On my face, a “small smile” is still not happy enough, so I have to go for more of a medium smile. In previous jobs, I’ve been required to smile at all times — and I developed chronic tension in my face and scalp, plus facial spasms. My then-manager told me I’d just get used to it eventually. And yet, nearly ten years after being able to stop, I still have the spams and constant tension.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Wow, that sounds awful. Have you been able to check in with a health professional about it? Lots of medical things can cause or worsen muscle spasms — which is not to say it’s NOT the smiling, just to say that’s perhaps not all that’s causing it, and addressing any purely physical issues might help. Ten years is a long time, which is partly why I suggest hunting other potential causes.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      What I was trained to do was “smile with your eyes” (as one of my voice teachers put it). Your mouth doesn’t have to be turned noticeably upward for the effect around your upper cheeks, brows, and around your eyes to kick in, and that goes a long way toward making your expression more pleasant while being a lot more restful for your face.

    3. Princesa Zelda*

      I don’t know if this helps avoid face spasms or not, but if I feel my face getting sore from maintaining a PEPPY! expression, I excuse myself to the stock room or bathroom and do stretches: open my jaw as wide as possible, then my eyes and eyebrows, etc, and then just stare RBFily into space.

    4. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Apparently the cast members who work in costume at Disneyland have problems when they first start work of smiling constantly and having massive face pain. Even though their faces aren’t visible through the costumes, they’re still smiling unconsciously because they’re interacting with the public, especially small children.

    5. Observer*

      Being required to smile all the time sounds like a total nightmare. And your former manager sounds like a piece of work. “You’ll get used ti it” Seriously!?

      On the other hand, I would have a talk with your doctor about the spasms. I would have thought that by this point it should have resolved itself. Perhaps something like physical therapy might help. It sounds mightily uncomfortable.

    6. Batgirl*

      Smiling should not be required at work “at all times”!
      Even customer service roles only need periodic smiles of greeting.
      Even then, a pleasant eyebrow raise and fall, will do.
      This is a boss-problem not a you-problem.

  78. JessicaTate*

    I have a very expressive face, in general. I’ve had to work hard to control that in professional situations and not be quite so much of an open-book. So, I believe it is possible to do. For me, it was about being much more mindful in-the-moment of my own emotions and reactions. That gave me the power to slow them down and control the outward display. Two things I realized that might help OP:

    I’m most prone to losing control with people who really irritate me or just push my buttons for some reason. It sounds like that may be part of the issue with Lola. You clash. She irritates the hell out of you, even if she’s “talented.” For me, that’s where I put my energy in controlling my face — when I dealt with “that guy.” It helped to realize that I was letting him make me behave like a jerk. I didn’t want him to “win” like that. So, when I interacted with him, I actively told myself (I even had a hidden post-it note reminder I carried around) to stop and breathe and not react. The mantra helped me respond professionally and not simply react to how idiotic (I thought) he was being (which was often non-verbal). It took energy, but it was really worth doing.

    I also was motivated to change when I thought about how my facial expressions were interpreted. I see that in your letter. Your head-shaking in the meeting with the bosses? I’ve been there. You say you were just thinking about all the examples of that not being true — they saw it as defensive and actively not listening. And… to some extent, when we show an immediate, strong emotional reaction while someone is talking, it does show that we’re not hearing them out. It signals “I stopped listening to you as soon as I disagreed with point X.” The truth is, part of your brain did stop listening, because you were running through the mental video archive to come up with examples. Again, I’ve focused on the “stop, breathe, don’t react” mantra to try to just slow down my emotions, which gives me more time to control them and to actually listen and form a less knee-jerk reaction to what I’m hearing.

  79. Princesa Zelda*

    I am also a person with an expressive face who has to control it at work! One stopgap that may help is starting to wear some thick-rimmed glasses. If you can obscure your eyes and eyebrows most of the time, that leaves people looking to your mouth for emotional cues, which is a bit more ambiguous. Another thing that I have found can be a help *in addition to other methods* is to practice a neutral face while, say, watching wrestling or musicals or other highly emotional things. If you can remain art critic-levels of impassivity while watching Chorus Line, you’ll probably be able to do it at work.

  80. nnn*

    A few thoughts that might help in the longer term:

    – Can you use this “open book” thing for positive emotions – delight, gratitude, appreciation, etc.? Expressing emotions is easier than hiding emotions, so if you’re effusive about “Thank you so much, you’re a lifesaver!” or “Ooh, excellent point!”, that’s weight towards coming across as “an expressive person” rather than “a mean person.”

    – Building on that, could you train yourself to have a warm facial expression when first greeting someone? (As someone who struggles with performing facial expressions, I find a look of pleasant surprise – as though you’re walking down the street and unexpectedly ran into your best friend – reasonably effective and easy to execute.) That gets the interaction off to a positive start, and since you’re not yet in the middle of talking and thinking and deciding, it’s easier to carry off consistently rather than just relying on your ability to modulate your expression mid-conversation.

    – If you catch yourself making a negative face, or catch someone reacting as though they think you’re reacting negatively, it might help to name and explain what you’re thinking/feeling (or what you want to say you’re thinking/feeling). Example: “Sorry, that look of confusion that just crossed my face is because I thought all the teapots had already been deployed?” or “I was looking pensive there because I have the vague idea that we have something else due the 23rd – I’ll have to check my calendar before giving you final confirmation.” Bonus: you get to control the narrative – if you’ve just said you look pensive because you vaguely remember a possible conflict, it’s a lot harder for them to say you’re glaring at them or something.

  81. Luna*

    I have the exact opposite problem — I tend to have the poker face on. I kept hiding how I really felt about things for so long, it actually made me physically ill and landed me in the hospital… at age 10. No idea why I decided to hide my emotions, since I wasn’t raised in such a way. Fortunately, the illness was dealt with. The problem itself still persists. But I try to counter it now by being a bit more open about how I feel — physically or emotionally. If I am having a bad headache or even a migraine, I do mention it.

    So, I have to say that I envy the LW a little bit here for being able to display their emotions so well. Of course, one extreme to the other isn’t good; moderation is generally best. I would try to maybe make a more ‘thoughtful frowning’ face, so people do not immediately think that furrowing your brows means you are annoyed at them (though you might be). Maybe try to add body language into this, like the thumb-and-forefinger-holding-chin movement to help with the ‘thoughtful’ look.

    1. Just Visiting*

      For me it’s one or the other, I can’t find a middle ground. I recently had a “talking-to” at my job for exactly the same issue as the OP (not a manager, though) and I’ve responded by going completely blank-faced. I’m sure some people here will think that’s just malicious compliance but seriously, keeping myself blank constantly is stressful enough without having to wonder how much “emotion sprinkling” is okay. This is actually MUCH harder to deal with than anything I do for work and I desperately long for the day when my dysfunctional self can work from home.

  82. RUKiddingMe*

    RBF is ok, eye rolling, scowling, head shaking, etc. are not. I have a ton of sympathy OP, but this can be worked on and overcome.

    Being an emotional open book…people always knowing where you stand is a double edged sword. Sure you don’t want to play games, but there are times, *especially as a manager* that you *don’t* want to telegraph anger, annoyance, thinking someone is stupid, and so forth.

    Lisa said “fix it,” so you need to do that. I get the accepting that it’s just the way you are but that comes across almost like “just telling it like it is.”

  83. EventPlannerGal*

    OP, as someone with a “Resting Confused Face” I do sympathise with the situation of your expressions not feeling as though they’re fully under your control. The thing is, though, that if you want to have a career where you interact with other people and need to get along with them, you can’t do things like roll your eyes at them in meetings and expect them to just accept it because that’s the way you are. They’re a person too, and presumably the way that they are is “a person who doesn’t like being eyerolled at in meetings”.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but it sounds as though you are attaching quite a bit of importance to your idea of yourself as an expressive person – you “don’t play games”, you describe anything else as a “poker face”, you experienced self-esteem issues when you tried to modulate this, etc. You seem to have it tied up with ideas about honesty and who you are as a person. Is it possible for you to try to stop thinking of these expressions in such an emotionally charged way, and instead just try to think of them as a thing that your body does? Because it’s much easier to approach “this thing that my body sometimes does” than “this fundamental part of Who I Am”.

    In the meantime, from someone in a customer-facing role, there are a few things that have worked for me to disguise my reactions. You probably will need to focus quite strongly on keeping a straight face when you’re dealing with Lola if she particularly annoys you; I’ve had clients where it feels like that takes most of my mental energy. In general, somehow distracting myself from my immediate reactions is the key – I’ve often found that focusing really hard on a physical sensation helps me fight back eye-rolls, head-shakes, sighs etc. (That could be something like fiddling with a piece of jewellery or a pen, snapping a hair bobble against my wrist, pressing my fingers together in a particular pattern, or regulating my breathing.) If that’s not possible, I will often try to remember something moderately complicated, like song lyrics or a poem or the stops on the Orient Express (it’s better to seem a little distracted than contemptuous or rude). If someone is really, deeply annoying me, I’ll go into a sort of “acting” space in my head – right now I’m “being” a happy, interested person and I need to be that person for another four minutes, and then I can go to the bathroom and be me, a really annoyed person.

    And really, trying to separate those two me’s might help. I (and a lot of hospitality-industry people, in my experience) have a strong division between Work Me and Normal Me – Work Me is a sort of outfit that I put on and take off at night. There doesn’t need to be a drastic difference, but it might help to try to avoid framing this as something that you are fundamentally incapable of or part of who you are. It’s just an outfit that you put on for work, or even just for dealing with Lola.

  84. The Other Dawn*

    I once had a manager like this. She couldn’t control her facial expressions no matter how hard she tried. It was always very obvious how she felt when someone said something she didn’t like. She rolled her eyes, sighed, frowned, or raised her eyebrows. She even told me that people have told her she displays all her emotions, especially the negative ones, and that she tries hard to have a poker face. It caused problems for her because it made her seem unapproachable, which is a problem for any employee, especially a manager. You don’t want your coworkers and direct reports working around you, because that means you may not get important information.

    I don’t have advice for how to control the emotions displayed on your face, but just wanted to reiterate that it can become a big problem if you don’t figure out a way to control it. It’s no fun working for someone whose face is an open book that clearly indicates that they’re displeased in some way or feeling contempt or think you’re stupid.

  85. FYI*

    “I can’t stop being rude to people because it negatively affects my self-esteem.” Come ON.

    1. AKchic*

      Thank you. I didn’t want to be the one to call that out. However, I may use it as an excuse later, because I am petty.

    2. Batgirl*

      Trying and failing at something does involve a self-esteem hit…but yeah.

      You’ve got to be super rich to be able to quit politeness.

  86. Ana Gram*

    This is a fascinating topic to me because I also had to learn to regulate my facial expressions and…it feels awkward. There’s no getting around it. But it also gets me what I want and, I suspect, it will also get you what you want. I’m a cop and looking shocked or disgusted or judgemental just isn’t useful. It took me years to cultivate my “bland yet interested” expression and it’s effective in getting me what I want which is information. Looking mean, horrified, etc makes people shut down whether they’re confessing to a crime or interacting with a coworker.

    It felt robotic at first but, with practice, became my normal expression. Work Ana is polite and interested in hearing how you managed to steal 17 tv’s from the store. Home Ana thinks you should stop stealing and are kind of awful. Start practicing hiding your reaction for a morning, for a meeting, for a few days, and see how it goes. Cultivate “pleasant, professional” you for a few weeks and see if you notice a change from others.

  87. Mel*

    People find it very hard to read my facial expressions – except for when I’m disgusted, that comes through loud and clear! It’s not good. Especially at work.

    My sister has the gift of being able to smile while actively wishing the worst for someone, but I can’t pull it off.
    What I can pull off is being completely, utterly, neutral. People hate it, because it is obviously a lie. I’ve never ever been neutral in my life and obviously I’m not feeling neutral while they berate me. But I also can’t get in trouble for it. I suppose someone might come back and say I didn’t seem concerned enough, but that hasn’t happened so far. What does happen is that they flip out trying to make me upset and then it’s on them.

    And if it’s not a situation where someone is flipping out at me, neutral doesn’t come off like anything. They probably don’t even realize I’m doing it.

    If you can’t fake friendliness, I recommend developing a neutral face. Practice doing it whenever you feel yourself getting upset and soon it will become second nature. The only thing you have to be careful about is not taking it too far. You can’t do that in friendships too much or people will find you cold.

  88. Marinlea*

    Original poster here,

    Hi Allison, thanks for taking my question and thanks to all the commentators so far. I edited down my letter quite a bit so it wasn’t too long, but a little more background. Lola doesn’t report to me and I am two levels above her in the company hierarchy. She is a very smart, very capable associate. She likes to do things by the book and will write e mail after e mail if something in a project is left out. The point where projects get handed off from folks in my division to folks in Lola’s division is a little ambiguous-all the other people at Lola’s level will just fix little mistakes because they want to get the project done. Lola would rather my division fix any mistakes. Fair enough, but she gets upset if we don’t do it immediately or ask her to do it instead. (The project hand-off is something we need to work on and just decide once and for all who makes the changes so the ambiguity gets dealt with.) I get annoyed when she insists things must be done a certain way then asks me multiple times to do the thing she insists on (3 times in 24 hours, recently). And then pushes back when I say I won’t be able to get it done before my business trip. On my end, this is the crux of my problems with Lola.

    I don’t intend to roll my eyes at anyone in a meeting, but obviously my irritation is coming across unconsciously or subconsciously anyway and that is a problem. I told a coworker about this and she promised to keep an eye on me (we are often in the same meetings) to let me know when my face is showing too much. I don’t want people thinking I am disdaining them and I feel awful if that is what my face is showing.

    1. Important Moi*

      Based on what you’ve written, I would suggest a meeting with Lola (and her boss?) stating everything you’ve stated here – politely & specifically.

      “Lola would rather my division fix any mistakes. Fair enough, but she gets upset if we don’t do it immediately or ask her to do it instead.” – Is Lola afraid of looking bad to her superiors and thus wants to make sure your division fixes things so she can document that your division caused the error? Volunteer to take the “blame”.

      “… asks me multiple times to do the thing she insists on (3 times in 24 hours, recently)” – Give her a time when you’ll respond so she doesn’t feel the need to ask repeatedly? Rinse and repeat until it’s time to respond.

      1. Marinlea*

        Lola and I had an informal meeting a couple years ago over some issues and it seemed to go really well-I apologized if I had come across as dismissive and it seemed like we understood each other. Her manager at the time reported back that Lola said she felt really good about our talk. Apart from working with her sometimes, I like Lola. We just seem to miss each other communicating. So last week I tried to meet with her again since that talk had gone so well, but she declined my invite and said she preferred not to meet with me alone. This was a surprise. I invited her manager, but Lisa shut the whole meeting down because she said I was much too upset. Apparently my face was really in overdrive, because I wasn’t upset, I just wanted to sort the problem out.

        As far as I know, Lola is upset over one interaction (the one I alluded to in my letter). Between the meeting we had a couple years ago and up until that interaction, I thought we had a good relationship. Lisa has now told me that Lola apparently wasn’t happy about our conversation a while ago, so I am a bit flummoxed as to what is really happening on Lola’s side. Lisa also says that she is still gathering information (I assume about the other people Lola alluded to). I guess I’ll find out soon…

        1. cheluzal*

          Honestly, Lola sounds too…precious for my taste. She sounds like she’s using the key words HR loves (hates?) because she’s not getting her way with you. Do you need to change your face? Sure (and every comment is about that), but Lola sounds exhausting and obnoxious, IMO, and I would have a hard time bending too far over for someone who just seems to constantly find ways to tow the line of offended (young?) worker.

          Not be alone? Give me a break. You’re not violent; she’s making it worse. I would start to be uncomfy with HER and file complaints about her because she sounds like she’s trying to tarnish your reputation.

          1. Observer*

            Good heavens. That’s TERRIBLE advice. It’s going to be very obvious what’s going on and THAT is what absolutely WILL tarnish her reputation.

            Lola isn’t being “precious” and she actually does have a good reason for not wanting to meet alone with Marinlea. She probably has good reason to believe that her complaints will either be brushed off as “over-reacting” or denied. After all, Marinlea has characterized her as “thin skinned” and effectively interrupted her boss to say that she hadn’t done what she was accused of. So having another person around to see and hear what’s going on is going to be useful to her.

            1. cheluzal*

              *shrug* I don’t see it as you do.
              It is absolutely possible Lola is very precious, finds offense everywhere, worries about everything, and is making a stink where no stink should be made…

        2. animaniactoo*

          Marinlea, if you see this – I’m going to 2nd the recommendation for therapy. CBT is great, it’s what I needed – but I’m not sure it’s what you need.

          Basically, the reason I would recommend this is that from what you’ve written here, I suspect that you have problems accessing what you’re really feeling and dealing with it and allowing it to be acceptable that you felt that way *to start* with. Using it as a point of communication with yourself to tell you that something is off. The problem is rarely feeling the emotion in the first place, even though lots of us get told that it is. The problem is usually what is driving the feeling, and how we deal with that, shaping our thoughts and perspectives around it.

          Here’s where I’m getting that from:

          but Lisa shut the whole meeting down because she said I was much too upset. Apparently my face was really in overdrive, because I wasn’t upset, I just wanted to sort the problem out.

          It would take a fairly disconnected person not to be at least mildly upset that there was an issue here, particularly in light of having an attempt to solve it be denied. After already being annoyed on some level at the one person who seems to be “creating an issue” by not working the way everyone else is because it creates more issues for you. So I question whether your internal subconscious dialogue matches your internal conscious dialogue – and if the difference isn’t showing on your face despite your internal attempts to shut it down.

        3. Observer*

          I’m going to second the idea of therapy.

          For one thing, if people are getting the wrong read on your emotions, which is what you are describing here, then you are NOT an “open book” – which was the only possible advantage of your behavior. Essentially you are getting all of the downsides, without even a silver lining.

          Secondly, unless you have a neurological condition, your facial expressions are not something that is separate and unconnected to what you are thinking and feeling and outside of your control. So if you are registering as VERY upset you need to recon with that. It’s possible that you just make faces that are normally made by most people only when they are really upset, in which case you can learn to change that behavior. But you’re going to need a bit of help if for no other reason than it’s hard to figure this out yourself. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that you are a lot more upset than you are letting on. I’m not saying you are lying – it would actually be easier if you were! Because if you are not acknowledging or recognizing your feelings and reactions, it becomes a LOT harder to control the results in terms of things like your expression. But it’s also harder to deal with the issue that’s bothering appropriately and productively because you are on much shakier ground, and you’re not even navigating it. It’s like the difference between walking on a bridge, walking on a narrow bridge without guardrails, and walking on a narrow bridges without guardrails while you can’t see the sides of the bridge. You know which scenario is the most likely to wind up with you falling.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think that’s a superb idea. Maybe your co-worker can even give you a discreet ‘freeze!’ signal.

    3. Hope I'm helpful*

      Marinlea – Thanks for adding this. I was wondering if general irritation was spilling out, because that happens to me too and I think see some similarities between us, especially when trying to “tame” the facial expressions.

      For me, I realized that I could find my “poker face” easier when I found words to voice my frustrations. I didn’t always have those, felt as if I could not speak up without being antagonistic, and stayed silent. The silence led to fuming or at least an continuous state of frustration. I didn’t realize that for a long time. This past year, due in part to this blog, I have worked on appropriate language for difficult situations or questions. As I worked on that language, my facial expressions also improved. They were easier to calm in tense situations, partly because I didn’t have to control them ALL of time, but mainly because I found other ways to express myself and keep it professional. (This is a constant state of learning, but it’s much easier for me than trying to control my facial expression.) This is similar to what Jessica Tate was saying above (nice screen name by the way!).

      Now, I realize not all frustrations are worth voicing, but it was easier to know the difference when I found some appropriate language for the situations. By appropriate or professional, I don’t mean passive-aggressive or nice or anything that doesn’t get to the point. Alison has given some great tips and examples on how to speak up, and that has helped me so much. I have a long way to go still, but the path has gotten easier since I’m not fighting with myself. I appreciate how hard it is to look more in depth, and see what is at the root of the frustration but in my experience, it’s been well worth it. Also, a trick that helps me in meetings is that I’m a prolific note-taker, so if I feel that annoyance come on or I see myself start to evaluate what they’re saying before they finish, I focus on my notes. It can help me get perspective, and if nothing else, be a distraction and something to look at. I do often use pen and paper because people can think I’m playing on my phone otherwise, but it depends how much usefulness I gain from using the phone. When I use it, I do make sure that I only pull up my note app and nothing else.

  89. SharonJG*

    It’s possible to feel your emotions without having those emotions dictate your actions.

  90. face of poker*

    Some have mentioned actually playing poker, and I am going to seriously suggest that, if you are so inclined. I play poker for fun and it has helped me learned control. Poker will teach you how to not react to significant input – like those two aces in your hand – telegraphing your thoughts. Losing (and winning!) money is a powerful incentive. Just try not to lose too much in the process!

  91. JD*

    Jeez. TONS of people are responding that they have the same issue. Maybe it’s time to let people react in natural ways and not get bent out of shape about it. A scowl doesn’t necessarily indicate disrespect. I’m exhausted trying to explain my every facial expression.

    1. Observer*

      No. There are a LOT of things that are “natural”. That doesn’t make them OK.

      The OP’s behavior is disrespectful. Sure, it’s natural, but it doesn’t make it OK. Most of the people who responded that they have / had a similar problem acknowledge that it’s a problem because their behavior IS rude / disrespectful / otherwise inappropriate.

      If you really have to keep on explaining “every expression” then you either work in a toxic place or your standards for “respectful behavior” are way too low.

      1. JD*

        Stretching that far to assume anything about the quality of my standards is also disrespectful, but hey if it came naturally to you, then great.

  92. Clytia*

    I know the autistic thing has been mentioned by another commenter, but I wanted to reiterate that.
    I was diagnosed as autistic last year (at 30). I am a woman, and late diagnosis is unfortunately hugely common for autistic women!!

    What was even more of a surprise for me than finding out so late that I’m autistic was that my face/facial expressions do not (and never have) functioned the way other people’s do! And people around me have been aware of this and never said a word! (This has never come up in a work context, but I have hardly done office work, so that might be part of that…)
    I found out because my bf at the time of getting diagnosed had mentioned that I had a “scared squirrel face” when I … was not scared at all! And he often asked me if I was bored, when I was not bored (that’s actually happened before, with others) and sometimes it seems people respond to my face and I have no idea what’s going on there or I catch on too late what’s going on there and it seems I made a face “out loud” that I had no intention of making!
    I read something by a fellow autistic that really resonated for me where she talked about finding it hard enough to identify and talk about her feelings, but then on top of that her face goes off “freelancing” and I thought yup, mine does too!! And since then, I’ve thought of my face having a separate identity and doing it’s own thing…

    For me, taking control of my facial expressions means focusing a LOT less on the content of the actual conversation and I’d rather interact with the conversation and let people know that my face does not necessarily reflect what I am thinking, but my words do. Most people I interact with know I am autistic (I tell people). Sometimes my face might interact appropriately. I don’t know; I can’t see it.
    But I can’t expect myself to do facial expressions, eye contact, and content appropriate talking and proper listening all at once!

    If this facial expression (and body language – the eye rolling is more of a body language thing, I’d say) is an issue for OP – I completely get it and understand and identify!! And some of us can’t help it and being told we HAVE to change this thing and be “normal”/fit into NT norms to be able to work is no doubt part of why autistic employment rates are so, so low! (And I’m not saying OP is autistic – it’s possible, I don’t know, I can’t diagnose someone online!!). But I think a lot of us here find advice giving to LWs interesting because it is/could be applicable to our own situations, and this could be problematic for someone who is not NT…

  93. Gemma*

    This is the reason I came to this site almost a year ago!! The comment that got me on the post Alison linked off too was making sure you aren’t thinking people are stupid etc. I thought I was doing great my minimizing my verbal but it was actually all non-verbal, my face was saying ‘you are stupid’. I now try to keep my mind blank rather having an internal monologue and not get into any sort of negative/spiral thinking about someone. This isn’t always possible but it gets easier over time.

  94. EM*

    I’ve had this problem earlier in my career – an open face – and I’ve had an few employees earlier on their careers who I coached on eye rolling.

    The thing that helped me was to shift my thinking, rather than shift my face. Visible anger or frustration was a kind of arrogance, and didn’t leave me much wiggle room for admitting later if I was wrong or didn’t know something. It was like I thought I was better than everyone else (which sometimes I did). I needed to shift myself to – “I don’t need to prove I’m excellent by pointing out your mistakes, I can show it by coaching you”, “Lola is great at x, wonder if she’ll teach me” “my boss is coaching me now because she’s investing in me, I must learn from this” and do on. Then I didn’t shut down or disagree because I wanted her perspective. I also found that as I did this people respected my opinion more, so that when I genuinely disagreed I could do so actively and not through my face.

    Which touches on what worked for one of my (now total rockstar) employees who did this when we first started working together. She rolled her eyes at me in a meeting and we had a very tough conversation after that, where it needed to stop immediately. She found that she did it most when she didn’t feel she could share her opinion, expertise, or disagreement in words. As we practiced what she called “voicing up” actively and respectfully, the need for her emotions to sort of squeeze out through her face completely disappeared. She too had done it all her life, and though she still has an expressive communicative face, I haven’t seen the aggressive eye-rolling/tunes out faces in more than two years.

  95. Horological*

    I can strongly recommend CBT. I was lucky enough to have my communication issues recognised while I was 15/16, and while a lot of it focused more on understanding other people’s facial expressions etc, I also learned a lot about how to generate my own (and my tone of voice).

    ‘Polite interest’ is my default at work, rather than the ‘blank’ OP seems to have been recommended. I can also do ‘Mild concern/puzzlement’, ‘Grateful smile’ and ‘Focused interest’ and a few others on demand. And no, I don’t consider it disingenuous – I’m just fulfilling the social contract of Being At Work.

    I also know my limitations (and don’t always get it right). After a particular situation at work, I know I can’t work somewhere that I feel like I’m being actively put down/ignored/shown no respect. I can tolerate a bit of it, but after a while it will show in my voice and attitude and I will get a talking-to… whoops. That was a clear sign I needed to move team, and I’ve been extremely happy since.

    tldr; CBT is worth it, social contracts are not disingenuous, but it is worth considering your limits.

  96. Coldbrewinacup*

    As a person who struggles with this myself, I understand it is HARD to control your expressions. But as a person who also has a boss who does not, who rolls his eyes and makes faces when the people who report to him talk to him… well, I can also tell you that working for a supervisor like this is demoralizing and, at times, hurtful.

    You can do this.

  97. Anon for this, of course*

    I have similar problem with LW, and spent my childhood and teen years getting into all sorts of troubles for it. Ultimately I got fed up and just started wearing surgical mask everywhere. I live where it’s pretty common, but in the rare occasions where people ask, I just said I have dust allergy (which I ado have, it’s just not the main reason).

  98. CM*

    I don’t think it ever helps anything to tell people to change their faces.

    OP, if the issue is that you’re feeling annoyed/frustrated/irritated by other people in your work group, then I think the thing to focus on is why that’s happening and whether there are things you could change about the situation that would make you feel more peaceful. Your boss is treating your facial expressions like they’re the main problem, but looking pissed off is actually just a symptom that something is pissing you off — the best thing to do is figure out what and whether there’s something you can do about it.

    If the issue is that you don’t feel particularly annoyed or pissed off but the expression you make when you disagree with someone looks that way because that’s just what your face does, I honestly think it’s a case where you need to explain that to people. Not in an apologetic way. Not in a way where you make it sound like you have some kind of facial disorder and stigmatize yourself. In a way where you’re like, “Hey, I obviously can’t see myself, but I guess that’s just what my face does to signal that I want to disagree. I’m sorry if it bugs you, but there’s honestly no hostile feeling behind it. I want to hear what you’re saying; the expression’s just a signal that I don’t agree with I’ve heard so far.” And/or maybe see if there’s a way to structure your discussions so that you KNOW you’ll have a chance to disagree verbally, which might cut down on the need to signal disagreement with your face.

  99. Lobsterp0t*

    I can really empathise with this. I am just a really animated person. I have had to learn to tone that way down – even now I don’t get it right.

    One tactic that works for me is slowly breathing in and out when someone is saying something ridiculous. I focus on my breath and on making sure that I don’t make any noise taking it in or releasing it – this helps me slow my reaction down, and helps me keep a neutral face.

    I also tend to look up when I am thinking – some people perceive this as eye rolling – I will just say aloud now, “Oh can I think about what you are saying for a moment” and then make sure I have an obvious thinking face on if I need to look up at the ceiling to consider what they are saying.

    I also try to look between eye and shoulder level if someone is saying something to me and we are facing, and I am trying to contain my reaction to it. Kind of… off into the space near their ear – it looks less rude than looking up and can’t be mistaken for an eyeroll.

    I also try to add verbal cues, to show active listening “hmm, okay, yes… etc.” So that they can hear a tone and not just assume what’s on my face. And I count to five before replying, especially if I really disagree.

    But mostly, you just need to practice keeping a calm and neutral face. If you need to release that tension somewhere, do something invisible – cross your toes or clench your calf muscle or something that isn’t in their line of sight!

    I tried recording my face and voice a few times and watching it back – that was really useful because it helped me see how things looked on camera, it got me out of my head and I could put myself in someone else’s shoes and react to my expressions slightly divorced from the context!

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