I can teach you how to be as scary as hell in less than five seconds.
Here’s how I learned.
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How I Learned To Be As Scary As Hell
As a new college graduate, I toiled for five long years in the underbelly of public education: the middle school.
Although I loved my job and students, I was a mere seven or eight years older than some of my students and more than a few inches shorter.
Every student needed to know that this short little teacher, fresh out of college, could handle anything. To do that, I used body language.
How Your Body Language Speaks For You
We’re always communicating, whether we think we are or not. Consciously or unconsciously we say things with gestures, movements, and facial expressions. Other people perceive attitudes, personality, and character qualities from them.
If you’ve ever heard or been taught that body language makes up 90% or more of what we communicate, let me stop you there. That number results from a misunderstanding of research completed way back in the 1960s. It actually applies when there is incongruency between verbal and non-verbal gestures. You can read more about that here.
Despite this, nonverbal communication still holds tremendous sway in our communications with others.
For example, tilting the head to one side indicates interest as does leaning in. Crossed arms register as defensiveness or disagreement, while nail-biting conveys nervousness and anxiety.
The “Uncanny Valley”
The uncanny valley is a term describing the unsettling feeling experienced when something closely resembles a human, but not quite, for example a doll, a robot, or even a life like mask. They appear close to human but are still clearly not human. We recognize the discrepancy and experience a visceral reaction to it; we may label it a creepy face. The animation in the 2004 film The Polar Express had this effect on some viewers.This may be some of what is happening with the technique I’ll describe momentarily since it involves the lack of expression. Although I might look like a mild-mannered middle-school teacher, I could rearrange my facial features to look slightly “off.’ When we perceive discrepancies between what we hear and what we see, we usually give priority to what we see. Remember that misunderstood study? This is an example of when body language takes primacy.
Now, if it’s us experiencing the discrepancies we can become confused, which leads to diminished situational awareness. However, it works to our advantage when it’s the other person who is confused.
It worked to my advantage to quickly take control of the inevitable situations that arose in a middle school classroom.
It can work to your advantage if you must confront someone because you or someone near you feels threatened. Likewise, if your car is also your home, it’s another useful strategy to increase personal safety.
All you must do is learn ‘The Stare.’
Now, you may think that giving someone, “the stink eye”, or, “the evil eye”, or making a creepy face is a matter of scrunching up your face, squinting your eyes, and curling your lip. On the contrary, the look to wear is devoid of expression.
Here’s how to make it.
How To Look Intimidating
The trick to this “expressionless” expression is to learn to relax every facial muscle. You do this naturally when you’re resting or sleeping. Every muscle in your face is completely relaxed. Now, just learn to relax those same muscles quickly while you’re standing up.
- Stand in front of a mirror.
- Relax your facial muscles. As you practice this occurs more quickly.
- Lower your chin just a tad. This creates an even more threatening, maniacal look. Seriously. They’ve researched it.
- You’ll know you’ve got it right when you have “dead eyes.”
Remember, every muscle has to be relaxed. This takes practice but after a while, you’ll be able to switch from your normal facial expression to this one in a matter of seconds.
When I’ve used this expression on my kids it completely freaks them out. My daughter tells me I look like a zombie. This isn’t me, but that center image gives you an idea of the effect. She’s much more intimidating than in the left and right pictures. And depending on the circumstances, it could definitely come across as a creepy face.
It’s also a lot easier to maintain this expression for a long period of time than it is to maintain a sneer, squint, or face scrunch. For those times when you need a prolonged stare to get your message across, an intimidating look like ‘The Stare’ is the way to go.
Speaking from experience, it can definitely tame a middle school classroom; it may even persuade a bad guy that you’re not an easy target.
Have you ever needed to be as scary as hell? Share your experience in the comments!
This article was originally published on April 5, 2014, and has been updated and revised.