I tend to have a very expressive face, you can almost always tell what I’m thinking by the look on my face. I am painfully aware of this and do my best to keep an expressionless face if the situation calls for it. If someone says something I find especially funny, surprising or ironic, for example, I have a really hard time keeping my eyebrows planted and my mouth and eyes from opening into a wide smile. And I think I often fail. I’m sure my face must show signs of tensing or strain in attempting to suppress the natural expression. There are times when you just don’t want to make a face in response to something someone is saying, especially if it is a reaction they wouldn’t be appreciative of.
Now, on the telephone, I am far more likely to go ahead and make the face, no one can see me and it just feels right. I work on the phone a great deal. When I’m not training in person, I teach via the internet and conference call. I was on the phone, teaching, for eight hours yesterday, eight hours today and will be, again, for eight hours tomorrow. Have you every sat in on an eight hour web/conference call class on a topic as titillating at audit software? Welcome to my world. Somehow, I manage to keep my attendees mostly awake and somewhat engaged. In fact, I get pretty respectable feedback scores on my phone presentations.
I was asked once to provide some tips to another team on how I manage to keep folks awake and alert and engaged. I recommended, among other things, that they smile and use their hands to speak as they would in person. I also recommended that they get up early enough to shower, do their hair, makeup, dress decent, etc., as though they were teaching in person. I will often stand and move in the same manner as I would if I were teaching in person. I recommended using the same aspects a stand up comic might, for example, adding comedy (obvious, to most, lost on others), funny observations or analogies, then relating back to a funny point made earlier. Sometimes, tasteful self deprecating remarks bring some levity to an otherwise boring topic, I usually keep them to general remarks that might be made of anyone in our industry (accountants, auditors, etc.) All of this conveys a level of engagement and enthusiasm through the voice that is hard to create if you are sitting still, in your sweats, looking and feeling like shit, reading from a script. To hone presentation skills , even on the phone, I suggested occasionally photographing themselves or taking video of themselves to monitor the level of enthusiasm, smile, expression, etc.
Being so well practiced at being expressive on the phone, though, may be my undoing in other situations. When someone says something that I react to expressively, even though unseen, can it be detected? Can the party on the other end tell that I am reacting in some way? Perhaps in a manner that would be unkind? Can they discern how I’ve reacted? What I’m thinking? What I’m not saying? Can they hear my face? Oh dear. I don’t know.
Last night I was on the phone with my S.O. (significant other). I think I mentioned something about feeling chubby (after the holidays and all). He said I was a 10 1/2 compared to any girls in his town (ah, gosh). I mentioned that I’d seen lots of pretty girls when I visited, in a teasing manner, of course. He replied “Well, I haven’t met them yet!”
“Yet!?” That was my immediate reaction and unspoken reply. I bit my tongue and said nothing, but in that moment I wondered if he could detect my big smile and surprised look, my tongue nipped between my teeth. I was just dying to tease him about that response! Was the pause that ensued longer than it should be, shorter than it should be? Could he hear my face? I bit my tongue for a reason, even though I thought it was funny, over the phone, with three thousand miles between us, sometimes things like this can be misunderstood. I didn’t want to come off as the jealous type, so I restrained myself from saying “Yet?!” The response was so intense and so natural to me that refraining from saying anything nearly hurt me physically. I had to sit down from the exhaustion of it!
And so I am pondering the point. Can you hear my face? I begin to consider all the other expressions I make, silently, while on the phone with people. Can they be “heard”, or felt or in any other way detected or understood? Yikes.
I have faces for everything! I have my “I need to get off the phone but you won’t stop talking” face (eyes cast upwards, hand in an upturned claw, moving up and down impatiently). I have my “I’m not listening to this bullshit” face (shaking head slowly, lips pursed, eyes half shut). I have the “what you’re telling me is interesting to you, but …” face (head tilted heavily to one side, propped up, chin in hand, other hand on trackpad, boredom glazed eyes scrolling lazily over screens on various social media sites, the weather channel site, CalTrans traffic camera sites, YouTube videos of grass growing). I also have the “you are responding according to my plan” face (evil grin, nodding, squinty eyes). There is also my “I didn’t mean to say that” face (mouth in a tight “oh”, eyes wide, shoulders hunched, like I’m waiting for something to fall on my head). Of course, I have the “laughing at my own joke” face (head tilted back, big smile, eyes shut, hearty, but silent, laugh). There is also the “what you’re saying is a) shocking, b) appalling, c) gross, d) disgusting face” (mouth open laxly, brow lowered, one eye bigger than the other, nose possibly wrinkled. The typical expression for “I can’t believe this!” is both hands violently thrust outwards and downwards at an angle, palms up, mouth open, brow furrowed, head turned to the right and perhaps tilted slightly to the right, as well, depending on the severity of the disbelief). One of the faces I hate the most is the “You asked me ‘what’s wrong?’” face, (face scrunched up, mouth downturned, eyes squeezed shut, possibly tears, trying not to emit sound). May I suggest that you never ask me “what’s wrong?’” if you think I’m upset about something. I will cry, often unnecessarily, because often nothing is wrong, but that you think there is will trigger the response. Sigh. There is also the “busted” face, you know, when I’m on facebook, pretending to listen (see above for the “what you’re telling me is interesting to you, but …” face) and I am asked a question and I have no idea what you’ve been talking on and on about for the past thirty minutes (eyes wide, mouth closed tightly, brows up, complexion suddenly pale). And, of course, the “I think that’s hilarious but I’m not saying anything” face (big smile and surprised look, tongue nipped between my teeth).
I think I am going to have to find a way to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps I could devise some sort of clinical study. I could possibly enlist the assistance of a confidant, perhaps my daughter. I will call her and make faces while on the phone. I will ask her what my expression was, I will ask her “can you hear my face?”