I got feedback about my face again.
I’ve had it before and I’m mostly fine with it… know it…. try really hard to work with it – the feedback is about the weird frowny thing I do when I’m puzzled or misunderstanding or unsure. I frown. I’m thinking deeply, which shows up as frowning and that expression gets read in lots of different ways.
The frowning thing has followed me throughout my professional life. I’ve been told I’m dissenting, disagreeable, intense, intimidating…. It seems my face tells people stories I’m only one part of. What I have learned, however, is the frowny thing distances me from being alongside people, it signals: stay away. It’s rarely meant. Although I absolutely can be dissenting, disagreeable and intense (I struggle to own intimidating) my preferred place of being is collaborative.
This frowny face plays a part in my coaching contracting now. When I work with a new client, I explain they might see The Face. It’s not disapproval – it’s intense curiosity or I’ve lost you and I want to hear or know more. I invite coachees to let me know if The Face is having an impact on them – making them speed up, slow down, censor themselves or show-off a bit. I figure I’m not the only one with The Face, they’ll bump into it elsewhere, and there is good learning about the impact of perceived disapproval available. In the face of The Face, what happens to our ability to stay true to ourselves and our narrative? Do we crumble under the notion that what we are saying might not be acceptable and sort of close down, or do we hold to our views and stay open to explore what these means to others?
The frowning, sceptical part of me is one I sort of relish. It isn’t boundlessly enthusiastic, or wholeheartedly optimistic, though I hope I have some of that in me too; but it is the part that is critically evaluative – not critical, but critically evaluative. It’s the bullshit detector I can’t ignore, the hook I sense that might just tear the lovely fabric, the part that wants to challenge the current thinking or the rhetoric being neatly spun… So often I’m working with L&D people who just don’t want to look at the lumps and bumps slowing things down, or the huge gaping holes in their programme thinking. How can things ever be improved if the gnarly stuff isn’t discussed or acknowledged, I wonder?
But sometimes that approach isn’t wholly useful. Boat rocking and inconvenient truths might show how clever I am, but can be annoying, arresting or even damaging.
So once more, I challenge myself to be in service of clients, colleagues, coaches, to use my frown for good.
Anyway, having mulled on my frowny face, debated the Botox which would sort it out fairly quickly (Fast debate. Ended in No-tox) I am playing with moving away from full-frown… and maybe spend sometime looking at the world just a little with one eyebrow up, rather than both knitted crossly.
What captured my attention was a quote from Deirdre Enright, Director of Investigation for the University of Virginia Law School’s Innocence Project Clinic. I heard her being interviewed on Season One of the very excellent Serial Podcast. The Podcast tells one real-life story, over a number of weeks, reported from a number of different angles. Season One is about the murder of a 19-year old young woman in Balitimore in 1999. Sarah Koenig, an investigative Journalist, looks over the case, the assertions made, the conclusions drawn and asks questions about the things that do, or do not make sense. It’s a case study in critical evaluation and curiosity. Enright’s involvement in the investigation comes through her connection with an Innocence Project, where her Students go over convictions made and test them. They start with a presumption of innocence and work through the case, methodically, to test that presumption. What struck me was her dedication to the work of being curious and objective – and also her warmth and humour on the podcast.
“In order to revisit it [a case] in any kind of careful way, you have to revisit everything– the good and the bad and the whatever and look at it with, you know, an eyebrow up…and sometimes it stays exactly the way it is and that can be unsatisfying”
I like this – I like the call to look in a careful way at what we do and don’t do, in our projects and thinking and behaviour – I also like the call to do this lightly – with one eyebrow up. A little optimisitic, a little sceptical, a little puzzled, not full-on frowning and seemingly disapproving.
So my challenge to myself is just that – lift my brows, lighten up a bit and be in service of those around me. Let’s see what Looking at the World with One Eyebrow up might do for me
Happy New Year to you All x