I’m A Lawyer, Not A Mime

Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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23 Responses

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, my wife often thinks I’m angry about something when I’m not, I’m just working out a math problem in my head or something.

    While it’s true that mostly I have never had coaching from an employer about face-to-face demeanor (it doesn’t mean much for a programmer, the electrons do not care if you are smiling or not), I have had such coaching in other venues.

    For instance, my martial arts dojo, of all places. Leading a class, especially, is an “onstage” endeavor. You have to be constantly attending to, and shaping, how the students are feeling about what’s going on.

    I’m not saying that expectations are not any different between men and women. They are. I’m just saying it isn’t all-or-nothing.Report

  2. Ozzzy! says:

    I guess the easiest go to equivalent for men is body odor, but in a client facing role, yes men also are asked not to make the client uncomfortable due to their person/ticks/demeanor. Certainly not saying said norms are applied equally or in a fair manner. Also, client facing roles are just different – part of said job is to make the person like and trust you. If someone is simply a smelly or angry looking person, it is probably a bad fit.Report

    • Ozzzy! in reply to Ozzzy! says:

      Also, congrats on the good review and 1 year anniversary! Glad you are in a good new role and know that it takes a lot of energy to make a big change like that work, which is all too often and easily underappreciated.Report

      • Em Carpenter in reply to Ozzzy! says:

        Thank you! And I take your point. It’s just that being smelly is controllable. I can’t help the face I was born with. The thing is I feel like I’m being pleasant and friendly. I’m always surprised when it’s not interpreted that way.Report

        • I had a co-worker who gave off a very stern vibe. I remember my first few interactions with her was off-putting. But after I got to know her and worked with her, it was clear that the only thing off-putting were the assumptions I made. She was quite a warm, friendly person. Whenever we had to collaborate on projects, I always looked forward to working with her.

          Because of where I worked (which was particularly sensitive to such issues), it wasn’t likely she’d be told to change in her performance review. But I can see how in a different environment, someone would unfortunately be told that.Report

  3. My husband had to give performance reviews for many years and they HAD TO fill out the “room for improvement” section even though there was nothing at issue. I would suspect that’s all that happened here – they had to pick a flaw and that was all they could come up with.

    Interestingly, though, he’s actually been told much the same thing at performance reviews. He has a permanent scowl that is very intimidating (even for me and I’ve lived with him since we were tadpoles) and it’s just how his face looks. I do think we as women get this more often due to sexism, but it has happened quite a few times to him too. 🙂Report

    • Yes to both of these. I’ve done and gotten performance review where it was, “Well, you gotta say something!” I also have a case of Resting Bastard Face. Or maybe Concentrating Asshole Face. My wife often complains that I look angry when I’m just deep in thought (although, sometimes I am angry about what I’m thinking about).

      I do think people notice these things more with women. Or maybe they just expect women to be more pleasant and are more offended when they appear not to be.Report

  4. I have done a lot of performance reviews as a supervisor/manager. Not once have I ever brought up the physical appearance or look of a female subordinate outside of something like dress code or very black and white issue. This is very much on purpose and something I’m mindful of. Report

    • The first time I taught a college class, I got a lot of feedback about how I dressed. I dressed like a grad student and the students thought I looked unprofessional. In that case, it was not only appropriate, it was helpful. Since then, I always dress reasonably professional. And it helps.

      But I agree, that’s the only time it’s appropriate to comment on someone’s appearance.Report

  5. Aaron David says:

    Ugh, I always hated performance reviews. If you are doing a bad job, your boss should be able to tell you. Likewise with a good job.And they have only gotten weirder over the years. The only time things should be writin down like this is to create a paper trail. Getting my wife to sit down and finish them is like pulling teeth, and I was never any better.

    Congrats on a year in Em.Report

  6. Dark Matter says:

    I’m a huge guy. It’s very easy for me to loom. Several times I’ve intimidated people over the years by accident.Report

  7. Are men told in performance reviews that they rub people the wrong way just by the existence of the face they were born with?

    Probably not nearly as often or as consistently, but it might partially depend on the job/field. If it were a low-paid customer service position, a guy might get told that, or it would be understood that he’d have to emote cheer and pleasantness regardless of what he feels like. Of course, even in that context, I suspect women are told more often to smile and men are more often respected or deferred to when they’re not forcing the smile. (And those jobs often don’t have the same kinds of performance reviews.)

    I’m not saying this to criticize your point. I am saying, though, that we (the global “we”) should remember the point about forced cheerfulness, etc., when interacting with customer service employees who help us. If they’re having a bad day (or if they’re just differently disposed to “look” less than cheerful), we should cut them some slack.

    I realize this is all a tangent, but I thought it needed to be said.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      That’s a good point, I think. If a man in s customer service role says “good morning, how can I help you?” and pays attention to the answer, that’s more likely to be deemed sufficiently courteous regardless of his facial expression, than if a woman does.

      Also the man is probably freer to smile without risk of “oh great this doofus thinks I’m flirting with him when all I’m doing is offering to help him find the right kind of sandpaper”Report

  8. greginak says:

    Ug people. I have some type of constant introvert face. What that means , i think, is that i can come off as distant or standoffish, when i’m actually in “need to be away from people to maintain sanity” mode. It’s not them, but it’s me who needs space and lower stimulus. People tend to take that as about them though. Faking smiles or extroversion is hard and often fails so it’s best not to try or at least stay natural.Report

    • I’m not sure if I have that face, but I very often have that same need.

      (Speaking for myself only: perhaps I indulge that need a little too much and theoretically could go out of my comfort zone. But still, I tend to need a lot of space and need reduced stimulus.)Report

  9. Mark says:

    There are cultural norms for facial expressions. I was not born in the USA and have been told to smile more. Middle Eastern men stand very close when they are speaking to you. I was in Brazil last year and got fewer smiles from women than I get in North America. These cultural norms are not right or wrong, but they are widely held. I walk around with a smile that is not the norm for my Eastern European upbringing to fit into this culture.Report

    • LTL FTC in reply to Mark says:

      I think you’re on to something. Deviations from the norm will be noticed and might make people uncomfortable. That norm may change, and people might seek to change the norm because it causes disproportionate harm, but that just shifts the people who are outside of it.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Mark says:

      Totally. Another one I noticed in Brazil last year was that men felt freer to joke around with the baby – play peekaboo and whatnot. Seems here it’s just about only women who do.Report

      • Susara Blommetjie in reply to dragonfrog says:

        The observation regarding men and babies also hold in South Africa, where I’ve found African men much more comfortable interacting with babies and children.

        Standing in a queue in a shop it would not be strange for a black man to play peekaboo with my baby, whereas whites (including women) would not easy interact with a stranger’s child outside of perhaps a smile.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to Mark says:

      My neighborhood in Big City has a strong eastern European presence (mostly Ukrainian and Polish), and I’ve noticed the lower incidence of smiling. (Part of that, though, may be stereotype logic on my part: I expect to see it, b/c of stereotypes about people from eastern Europe, and therefore I look for it and notice it without noting all of the exceptions.)Report

  10. Susara Blommetjie says:

    A few weeks after starting at my new company, I was developing a communication problem with the team lead. I’d joke (sortof) that my IQ would drop with 10 points in his presence. Talking to him, I’d interrupt my own train of thought trying to explain myself recursively, my brain would just freeze up. It was soooo puzzling because I could see from his other actions that this was a basically really good guy, if a bit serious.

    And then it hit me one day; he had a Most Serious Case of Resting Arsehole Face. When I talk to someone I expect low-level feedback from the other party communicating ‘I hear what you say, it’s ok, just carry on’; a gentle eye contact, broken at comfortable time periods. A nod of the head, perhaps an approving a grunt here and there.

    From my Mr RAF team lead, there was nothing. He’d keep the constant piercing eye contact of a Border Collie focussed on a sheep; didn’t blink, didn’t look away, didn’t nod. Just that steady. eye. contact.

    On diagnosing his RAF, I realised that I (miss) interpreted his body language as very judgmental, as if he were thinking ”Seriously? *That* is what you’re trying to sell me, girl?” Like he was just waiting for me to finish blabbering so he could disembowel whatever point I was trying to make.

    Turned out I was not the only collegue struggling to work with him.

    I’m relating this sad story to ask those with RAF/RBF; I know it must take enormous energy to constantly animate a face mask that just wants to be itself, but please also take into account how us recipients feel.

    Whether the OPs review was done in good faith or not – the phenomena is real, it happens to both men and women (although they may surely be handled differently), and it does have detrimental effects on the work environment.

    But we all have our EQ issues at work; I tend to be way too animated for a professional environment filled with introverts. I’ve been taken to task in performance reviews for gesturing too animatedly – aparently people find it intimidating. I was so taken aback the ‘would a guy have been told this?’ question also popped into my mind, but I’ve really experienced very little gender discrimintation over the years and wouldn’t like to start to entertain that train of thought to enthusiastially.Report