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Throw A Look Before A Punch –  Your Gaze Can Change Everything


I Got the Mom Look

When you hear the term “The Mom Look” what comes to mind? A little girl (maybe you?) giggling during a funeral, and suddenly Mom’s glaring at her and she stops? The slow turn of the head and the stare that says, “Oh no, you didn’t just say that to me”? Ah,that side eye that stops all misbehavior in its tracks… been there, experienced that.

As a 10 year-old with a super-high metabolism, I was constantly munching on something. Now that’s no big deal, but I had a really bad habit of asking for food everywhere I went. It wasn’t that I was underfed. It was more that I was convinced other people’s food was better than anything we had at home, and if I asked the right way I could convince people to give me some. Frankly, my mom was getting fed up with it (pun intended).

And one night, she had enough.

Donna and Barry were a newly married couple living in a high rise apartment building in downtown Wilmington, and my parents’ close friends. After dinner one night, our family headed over for a visit. 

About halfway there, Mom turned and looked me in the eye. “Don’t say anything about being hungry. You just ate and you’ll be fine till we get back home.” She held the look for a moment. No room for argument or appeal, no use petitioning, But we didn’t have dessert. End of discussion.

“Okay, Mom,” I said. She turned back and faced forward.

A few minutes later we were at their door, and Donna waved us in. 

“Come on in! How are you guys?” She was smiling, all happy to see us – to see me! Warm and welcoming and as we walked in, I just blurted it out, and there it was:

“I’m okay, but I’m HUNGRY.” 

“Well, let’s see what we’ve got,” and as Donna walked into their little galley kitchen, chatting about fudge pops in the freezer and I was following her… I felt it.

The Mom Look. 

Oh, no! I forgot all about Mom! And the look in the car and the warning voice and my “Okay, Mom.” I blanched and turned and there Mom stood. Her eyes behind her glasses were wide, and said it all. I was going to get it when I got home.

Have you gotten – or given – that Look?

It’s Written On Our Faces

So, why are facial expressions so effective? In the late 1960s, Dr. Paul Eckman studied an isolated New Guinea tribe to discover if facial expressions are cultural or universal. Their faces told him the answer, and he came home with seven universally identifiable facial expressions:  happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, contempt, anger, and sadness.

You could go anywhere in the world and your face will tell more than your attempt at their language what you’re feeling at any given moment. Pretty cool isn’t it? You’re struggling to have a conversation with someone but they can read your face and understand. And you understand them. You can even shoot – and catch – a look from across the room and get it. 

The only real differences in how basic human facial expressions are interpreted are context. Basically what makes one person recoil in disgust may make another person smile with pleasure. But the expressions of disgust and enjoyment are equally understood.

Steph hates cilantro. She’s at a birthday party with friends and casually scoops up some cilantro-loaded salsa with a chip and pops it into her mouth. Next moment she’s gagging and spitting the bite into her napkin, her eyes wide, her lips curled in disgust.

Susan loves cilantro. She’s at the same party, scoops up the salsa with her chip and pops it in her mouth. She closes her eyes and smiles with happiness.

Same experience, vastly different responses.

Fascinating study of human expressions. Now let’s see what our eyes can do.


The Power of a Glance

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William Shakespeare famously said, “The eyes are the window to your soul.”  And I think most of us realize it’s true. A loving gaze, a welcoming glance, a look of irritation or disgust. Can you picture these? 

How about a look that says, “That’s enough. I’m not putting up with this any more”? Even before the words leave our mouth, our eyes already say so much. Whatever’s inside comes out on our face through our eyes, whether we realize it or not.

So how can we use our eyes to protect ourselves? How can we train to add a series of curated glances to our toolkit of effective strategies to take charge in a charged situation?

Let’s talk about that.

Road Rage or Calmly Deal With It?

Let’s say you’re driving home from work in rush hour traffic, and you accidentally cut a lady off while switching lanes. Next thing you know she’s passing you, eyes wide, glaring at you, leaning on her horn. You could stare back and lean on your horn. You could shoot her a disgusted look and throw your hands up. 

Or

You could look back, eyes apologetic, mouthing “I’m sorry.” 

Which is your natural response? Yeah, me too. That’s why we need to train. Road rage or really, any irritation between two or more people, can quickly escalate if someone doesn’t act like an adult and stand down. In some situations a calm, understanding look is all you need to defuse a situation. But what if it escalates?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Benjamin Franklin

Let’s Go to Wawa

It’s a lovely morning and you’re craving the new Winter Blend at Wawa. As you step through the door, your nose is leading you to the coffee zone, but your eye catches a movement that seems off. 

There’s a guy standing by the TastyKakes, and he’s staring at you.

Him: Hey lady, got any spare change?

You: (Give him the side-eye) Nope.

Him: (Starts walking toward you. His eyes look glazed over. Drugs?)

You: (Lower your face, stern look right at him.) You need to back off.

Him: (Hesitates and stares.) What? What’d I do?

You: (Widen your eyes.) I said back off! 

Him: Uhhh

You: (Warrior Face)

Him: (Not worth it, backs down, walks away.)

See what happened there? You noticed right away something was off. Then you gave the guy the side-eye. When that didn’t stop him you gave him a stern look, along with a command. When he chose to get defensive, you opened your eyes wider to match your more forceful command. 

And whoa, what’s that at the end? Warrior face? What’s that? Stay tuned, we’re tackling it in an upcoming blog, and I think you’re going to like it.

Now whether or not you meet a creepy guy in a Wawa (or anywhere else for that matter), most of us can relate to a scenario like this…

Rough Going in Math Class

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It’s 2:00 on a Friday afternoon, last period Algebra 2 class. In 25 minutes the buzzer will sound and the kids will burst from all the classrooms. 

For now the clock slowly ticks and everybody, including Miss O’Brien, is ready to be done for the week.

Miss O’Brien is writing a formula on the board when Freddie in the back row shouts out.

Freddie: Yo, Miss O’Brien, I think we’re done here.

Miss O’Brien: (Pauses, looks over her shoulder): Oh you think so? My watch says we have 25 minutes to go.

Freddie: (Sits up, leans forward): Our brains are full. We’re done. Let’s just take the rest of class off.

Miss O’Brien: (Turns and faces the class, looking over all the students before focusing on Freddie. She lowers her face and gives him a stern look. Her voice matches it.): We have 25 minutes left.

Freddie: (Starts to stand)

Miss O’Brien: (Widens her eyes): SIT DOWN.

Freddie: (Stands all the way)

Miss O’Brien: (Eyes wide, employs Warrior Face). I said, SIT DOWN, Freddie.

Freddie: (Sits down) Looks like we have 25 minutes to go.

Those EYES

Have you ever heard of New Zealand’s Maori people? They’re an indigenous group who’ve mastered the fierce gaze. Combined with a powerful stance and war cry, their eyes create a force to be reckoned with. Fully employed, it’s downright scary.

The fascinating fact of the matter is, we can also widen or narrow our gaze in a way that tells people we mean business and don’t mess with us. 

We talked about the reality of violence, using our center of gravity to our advantage and training to become calm in any given situation. Now let’s add cultivating our gaze to the mix as a final warning to any would-be attacker.

The look we’re talking about can’t really be faked. It comes from the inside-out, and must be trained. Soldiers around the world and across history work hard to bring the anger and outrage at injustice, combined with the desire to protect hearth and home and all they know and love, to burst from their faces, through their eyes, and blaze in their battle cries.

We’ll get into the strategic use of face and voice soon, but for now let’s just focus on the eyes. The goal is to tell without words you’ve had enough and the person has a choice: deal with your wrath or back off. Trained properly, combined with stance and calmness, your carefully curated gaze can make the aggressor come to the best conclusion: It’s not worth it. And they back off.

As you feel the outrage and anger, you allow your face to harden, tilt your head down, your eyes to blaze. It looks something like this: 

Learning how to use your eyes as a self-defense tool takes solid instruction and feedback to get it right. Sure you could “try this at home” but how will you know if you’re going to just get laughed at and attacked anyway?

We’re all in tough situations at times, from parenting, to mishaps at a convenience store,  in the classroom, or in a myriad of other situations we find ourselves in simply by living in this crazy, messed-up world. So what do you do when faced with a contentious person? Do you look away and acquiesce? Do you get upset and blow up at them? Do you try to appease them? Or do you calmly take charge of the situation and have a tool handy for whichever way the interaction goes?

Do you think you’ll be able to stop a fight from breaking out – or stop it once it’s begun – with your current training? How can you make sure you’re ready with all the tools you need to face the threat and overcome whatever comes?

The best way we’ve found is to practice under skilled training in a safe environment, receive correction and feedback, and continually grow. I know just the place, and you’re welcome here.

Join us. 

Resources:

https://www.paulekman.com/resources/universal-facial-expressions/

https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/HumBeh_p052/human-behavior/science-of-facial-expressions

https://www.paulekman.com/blog/cultural-differences-in-emotional-expressions/


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