In our NLP Level 1 Practitioner/Coach Certification Training we practice observing each other and learning about how we interpret people’s behavior. We teach about the difference between interpretation and sensory specificity. Interpretation is full of our biases; we see someone who is in jeans with holes and we quickly make up that the person doesn’t care what they look like or that they are “in fashion.” If you are being sensory specific you may just look and notice jeans with holes and that is all you know.
How often do we just see without interpreting? It is rare that we do not interpret, because impressions happen within seven seconds of a first glance. I have recently been thinking about interpreting facial expressions after reading the NY Times article, I’m Not Mad, That is Just My RBF, by Jessica Bennet on August 1, 2015. Here is the link, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/fashion/im-not-mad-thats-just- my-resting-b-face.html?_r=0 For those of you who don’t know, RBF stands for “resting bitch face.” Imagine lips straight across, no upturned and if anything a bit downturned. Some of you would say, “Oh you mean a frown, instead of a smile?” In a way, yes.
Unfortunately women have been plagued with strangers walking past and commenting things like, “Smile! It’s not that bad,” or “Having a bad day?” I have been the recipient of these comments when I have been walking deep in thought and someone comments that I don’t look happy. I understand that a resting face does not mean that someone is a bitch, yet this is the interpretation that comes across in our seven second (or less) window. Men do not typically receive these comments, they may have RBF, but there is no expectation of a smile so the perception is not as severe as it is for women.
I worked with a businesswoman who had a top position and she said that in order to be taken seriously she trained herself to refrain from smiling. Now that she doesn’t smile, the feedback that she had received was that she was perceived as “unavailable.” What is a face to do?!
Since I read the article I have been experimenting with subtly creating a slight upturn in my lips while “resting.” I am not talking about a teethy smile, known as the Duchenne smile, where you also smile with your eyes, but a slight upturn in the lips. I am calling it my RFF. Which stands for” resting friendly face..” I have enjoyed reminding myself to create this inner smile with this slight upturn. It is my own way of reminding myself that I am in a pleasant mood. I have noticed that when I maintain my RFF, I do get similar mirrored responses. Of course this is when I make eye contact with others who are passing by, interpreting or not even thinking of me.
The latter concept, that no one is even thinking about me, is one we often forget. There are times that people are not noticing you, and therefore not interpreting. So perhaps we can go back to not being self-conscious about whatever resting face we have on at the moment.
The next time you are out in public, take a look around you and see what kind of face reading you are doing. It is not as simple as happy or sad, but you will see that you may be creating interpretations based on what you see in the person’s facial expressions and in particular in the way their mouth is shaped. In our classes we discuss all of these possibilities knowing that it is likely that you will be misread even with the best intentions. Look in a mirror, and notice what interpretation you make about yourself.