Why can't you fix your face?
June 23, 2019 2:30 AM   Subscribe

I've repeatedly had issues where people have told me that I look sad or frustrated and stressed out. I work in retail and I think it may be negatively affecting my coworkers.

I like my job because I do get some fulfillment from some of the conversation I have with customers. However it doesn't leave me with much energy for my coworkers. I am incredibly introverted and super sensitive to my environment. I definitely have an anxious and depressed temperament. I try really hard to not let it seep through my interactions but I don't think I'm very successful. I've heard snipets of conversation here and there and can tell my coworkers do not enjoy being around me. I feel incredibly guilty and humiliated that I might have made my coworkers feel negatively because of my disposation. I am always polite to my coworkers however I am very quiet. I am incredibly tired when I am at work and I take the rest of the night to recover. My emotions are amplified on my face and I look angry all the time. I really don't know how to deal with these issues as they have become a repeated problem. I want to look less like a bitch help pls. Am I in the wrong job? What steps should I take to become a more pleasant person to be around? Do I need some Botox to make me look less angry?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Please do not do botox for this!

Is there someone you trust at work who you can say something like: "I really like the customer facing work, but it takes a lot of energy! I hope people don't think I'm negative when I'm really just tired..." Or you might try another way conversationally to let people know you are interested and engaged-- five minutes of conversation can make a big difference. A simple "how was your day?" before you leave can help.

Have you considered that you might be overstating the impact of your expressions on others? Or if people are reacting badly to you, do you have a good handle on the real root cause? Have you considered asking your manager for feedback? Or again, another coworker who you trust? I ask because I've never in my career seen other people negatively impacted by someone's expression. I suppose it's possible, but it strikes me as an extreme reaction.
posted by frumiousb at 2:40 AM on June 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

First of all, it's totally ok not to be best buddies with coworkers, I'm pretty confident that people don't feel as negatively about you as you think. At worst, they're probably just thinking "eh, sheepishchiffon and I don't click, I'll go talk to that other person instead." As long as you're polite and kind to coworkers -- you are, right? -- you're fine.

Second, what if you were more honest with your coworkers? Within reason -- don't spill your guts out or badmouth customers. But when asked "how's it going" rather than make pleasantries through gritted teeth, say something like "whew, that was an intense order, that kind of thing always wears me out. How about you, though?"
posted by EmilyFlew at 4:47 AM on June 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've heard snipets of conversation here and there and can tell my coworkers do not enjoy being around me.

No matter what your expression, this is deeply unprofessional behaviour on the part of your coworkers, and it does make me worry that you are experiencing a toxic workplace and are (like decent and anxious people often do) taking responsibility for its flaws.

If your manner or behaviour were a problem, then your co-workers and/or managers should be addressing it with you in some way. That they have not suggests to me that it's far, far more likely that the problem is the dynamic in your workplace than anything you bring to it.
posted by howfar at 4:56 AM on June 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

You could ask your coworkers for help - “hey guys, how do you keep up your energy on shift? I have fun talking to the customers but it leaves me too drained to even chat with you guys. What do you guys do?”

Sometimes people interpret silence as condescension, like you think they’re not worth talking to. This conveys that you’re just tired but also that you’d value their advice.
posted by sallybrown at 5:18 AM on June 23, 2019 [33 favorites]

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is a gendered component to this. People routinely expect (those presenting as) women to be chipper and cheerful, while expecting no such thing of (those presenting as) men. I'm assuming that you are a woman or female-presenting.

Nevertheless, you might very well be able to make your co-workers like you more by showing some positive interest in them. People like to talk about themselves, so asking questions and taking an interest in the answer (and making compliments where you can do so genuinely) will probably go a long way.

If you want to come across as more positive, you could try saying something like 'It's been a long day (=explanation for your tired expression) ... and now I'm really looking foward to [some activity]'. That way, you're putting a positive spin on how you're currently feeling, but not lying about it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:42 AM on June 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Speaking personally, I know that one of the symptoms of my depression is perceiving that people dislike me more than they really do. So, that's one possibility that might be worth considering, although you know your own depression far more then an internet stranger like me can

But I've totally been where you are regarding having to always appear cheerful for the public, and let's face it, a good portion of the general public seem determined to make it really hard to be cheerful around them. And some days, a lot of them seem like they're taking out their life's frustrations out on the poor working stiffs who have to deal with them to make a living.

What helped me a lot in that position was thinking of it as an acting job. Granted, that adds a whole extra job on top of your actual work, but I think it's saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Other times I would keep a favorite song, movie scene, or poem playing in my head - something I couldn't help smiling about. Let other people thank I'm smiling because I enjoy being there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:00 AM on June 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

It isn't you. It's the expectations of a culture that encourages and rewards extroversion. That you are able to be polite and cheerful to customers, despite being an introvert, says a lot about how good you are at adapting to circumstances that are not optimal for your nature.

The thing about customers is - they come, you smile at them, you have a short conversation, they leave. If the organization you are working for is generally liked by customers, that means most of them really won't give you a hard time. So if that is the case, you tend not to associate negative emotions with customer interactions. There are always customers anywhere that will Be Unhappy, make a scene, demand to speak to the manager, etc. That is the nature of customer service. They come and go though, as I said. Your coworkers do not. If they are such that they gossip and talk unfavorably about you, that is on them and they are the ones who are causing you to feel tension and anxiety around them. That is not on you.

You do not need to have a smile implanted on your face. You might consider, preferably with the help of a therapist when you can get one, working on emotional regulation, meaning you identify people or situations in the past who have primed you to let your coworkers here upset you far more than you should be letting them, and learn how to redirect your focus and emotions elsewhere. Now I know how that is easier said than done. Snide people can be hurtful to anyone. But the important thing here is to develop skills, a skin if you will, to ignore it and eventually, not hear it at all. Focus on the customers as you have. You are there for them, not your coworkers' entertainment. If the place is so toxic that your efforts to work with customers and meet the stated goals of the job (I assume there is some sort of sales quota or number you have to meet) go unrecognized, it's time for a new job.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 6:49 AM on June 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I suspect there are bigger issues at play here, and folks above me have offered better suggestions there. I just want to address one tiny thing.

I recently looked at myself in the mirror, and noticed that my expression read "angry", or at least "tense". But I was feeling neither at that moment, and in fact, was rather happy. Apparently I have the twin habits of clenching my jaw and squinting a little. The result of these little tics was an angry-looking face.

Since I don't want to go through life looking angry all the time, I'm trying to stop at various times throughout the day and think about the muscles in my face, and force myself to relax them. (Part of this is related to developing an overall mindfulness practice, but for right now, I'm focusing on my face.) I hope it will result in a more pleasant general expression, which might start reducing the number of times people ask me why I'm so mad/angry/tense/stressed/sad, when I am none of those.

So, maybe one tiny thing to try is to check in with yourself periodically and force yourself to relax the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders. Even if it doesn't solve the work issue, it feels good!

I like Calm.com if you'd like to explore guided mindfulness practices further.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm like you, and it takes constant work to overcome it, but it gets easier when the behaviors become automatic.

One thing that's important (I was told in a review very early in my career that I'd better do it) is say "good morning how are you" to EVERYONE you encounter in the morning even if you don't know them and they aren't part of your workflow.

From mid-morning to afternoon, "how's your day going?" is a good remark if you encounter someone at peer level or lower in a break room (not if you're just passing in the hall.) Anything positive you can say is always nice to hear. Nothing too personal or obviously fake. Complimenting unusual shoes or fun t-shirts is easy.

Once you have these behaviors on autopilot they'll be much easier for you to remember, and you may find that having friendlier interactions at the office actually "fills" your emotional cup rather than being draining.

Don't let yourself sigh/exhale audibly out loud, even at your own desk. This can be hard when you're tired or frustrated but it's really really important.

With regard to the squinting, that could be a sign you just need some sight correction. Get checked at an optometrist's.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Because a lot of your questions seem to be variations on the same theme of others disliking you, I’m going to suggest you may be projecting your own negative feelings about yourself. Have you ever thought about talking to a therapist about self-esteem? Could be super helpful because if you have strong self-esteem, you will care less about what others think and won’t feel the need to change who you are to suit what you think others want.
posted by kapers at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Smile! Put a little mirror somewhere you can see it, clients can't. It will remind you to keep smiling.

I disagree with the other poster about the botox. If it will keep wrinkles off your forehead, you should consider doing it. Forehead wrinkles telegraph anxiety to others, which is bad. Botox won't stop you from smiling, which is the key thing. Keep smiling!
posted by zadcat at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've repeatedly had issues where people have told me that I look sad or frustrated and stressed out... I want to look less like a bitch help pls... Do I need some Botox to make me look less angry?

If you're a female-presenting person who doesn't wear makeup, act chipper, or otherwise conform to stereotypical gender presentation, sad/frustrated/stressed-out (as well as "tired/sleepy/sick") is often how people phrase their concern.

That said, there are recurring themes (of anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction, and a significant inability to read others) running through your questions. If you're not in therapy, please consider getting some professional counseling with the right therapist for you. Best wishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

I apologize for appearing creepy, but I also glanced at your posting history and cannot help but notice that you have posted many, many questions about people not liking you. Indeed, a year ago, someone said: I couldn't help but be struck by a thread of anxiety, dare I suggest even paranoia, that seems to run through pretty much every single one of your questions. Also what I would characterize as, well, self-loathing or at least a pattern of negative speech about yourself.

I think you need to really consider getting therapeutic support because you're quitting jobs and still think people talk about you and don't like you. This has nothing to do with other people--this is really within you.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Came here to recommend reading the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain, about the nature of introverts and the generalized cultural brainwashing that is the "extrovert ideal". There's a lot of interesting stuff in there as well about how introverts process the metadata of conversations (like reading the emotions of the other person). Maybe owning your introversion and realizing that it's not something that's wrong with you will help change your perspective on these interactions and increase your confidence in yourself, which in turn may shift how your co-workers perceive you.

I saw a dermatologist a couple of years ago who was an excellent person and doctor but had no facial expression. It was slightly creepy. I suspect Botox.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:25 PM on June 23, 2019

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