Dear Papa Bear,
After spending the last few days reading you advice to others, I've decided to try this.
For quite a number of years now, people tend to think I'm being rude/angry, especially when I'm trying my hardest NOT to be. I worked at Walmart for a while a few years ago and had had customers who specifically looked for me for help, and thought I'd fixed it, but I recently learned there had been numerous complaints against me.
I didn't think much of it (I had been sick at the time, and had many days where I couldn't even speak), but at my current job, all of my coworkers have said I have a bad attitude. They also tend to make me the butt of the joke, so whatever. However, a few customers have said things like "you don't need to be rude" and "why are you angry", and many more are just nasty and snotty to me and I can only guess they think I'm doing it to them. Even my roommates and my boyfriend can't always tell when I'm not being rude.
I have no idea how to fix this. I'm already doing everything I though was polite! I smile, ask "how can I help you", apologize a lot, be quick to assemble the order, say "have a nice day", etc. It's very frustrating. How can I not be rude, when in my head, I'm already the most polite I can be?
Anonymous (age 21, female)
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There are several ways that people might misread you other than by what you say or do. It might be the tone of your voice, your body language, your facial expressions, or even the way you dress. For example, if you, say, have eyebrows that naturally slant downward or the corners of your mouth slant downwards, even slightly, when your face is relaxed, you might be perceived as being angry or scowling. A heavy brow or forehead that is too pronounced may also be seen as having a harsher appearance. If you stand with your arms crossed or tap your foot nervously, this could signal you’re impatient. Sometimes, believe it or not, women who dress very nicely and professionally in the workplace (or, say, put their hair up in a tight bun rather than letting it hang loosely) can come off to some people as being “bitchy” (I know, unfair, right?) If you speak with a monotone voice (or, as when you were sick, your voice sounds a bit gravely), you could sound indifferent or mad, too.
What you need to do is take some time to be more aware of how you look. At home, spend time examining yourself in the mirror. This article shows how even subtle changes in how your face looks can send positive or negative signals http://www.today.com/health/do-you-have-happy-or-angry-resting-face-it-may-1D80234661. As an exercise, try emulating the more positive features; be conscious of what your mouth looks like (upward- vs downward-turned corners), how you stand, and so forth.
You can also try dressing in cheerful, even silly clothing. As an extreme example, if you wore a T-shirt with a big yellow happy face on it, people would be less inclined to think you were an angry person. Or wearing a floral pattern vs. a sharply geometric one. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow, pink) come off as being more uplifting that drabs (brown, grey, khaki) or cool colors (blue, purple). Makeup that brightens the face may also help (http://makeup.allwomenstalk.com/makeup-tips-to-brighten-your-face).
Culturally, Americans are rather an anomaly in that we expect people to be chipper, smile a lot, be happy. This is very different from countries from Japan to Europe to the Middle East, where overly happy people (people who are upbeat and smile for no apparent reason) are often looked at as either being insincere or possibly crazy.
You live in a crazy place (and the South is especially noted for people often being exceedingly nice and hospitable [Northerners are seen as a bit more cold and deliberate, often]), so this is even more true in a place like Texas than, say, Minnesota or New Hampshire.
This all might seem rather shallow because, well, it is, but it might actually help you reverse the incorrect opinion people have of you.
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