Ah, the smile-grimace.
As a retail clerk, I see it a lot. I greet a customer with a smile and a ‘hello’, and what I get in return is this… how should I call it? Lip curl, twitch, frown thing. I think they think they’re smiling. Well, they ain’t.
Dale Carnegie said, “An insincere grin… doesn’t fool anybody. We know it is mechanical and we resent it.” A genuine smile is an expression of genuine happiness, delight, amusement. It says “I’m glad to see you”, “I like you”, “You make me happy”. The grimace thing says, “I’m acknowledging that you exist, now beat it.”
The expression on your face is one of the first things people see. It is part of your first impression, and we know that a first impression is often all you have. As far as I’m concerned, a pleasant countenance is far more important than what the person is wearing, or what sort of body composition they have. The best beauty tip my Mom ever gave me was “Smile, and you’ll look beautiful.” True that, Mom.
My favorite people are all smilers. I work with some fantastic smilers and jokers. When I walk into the preshift meeting, I look for them because I know they’ll smile like they’re glad to see me—and I’m glad to see them. They make work a fun place to be. When they’re gone I miss them.
Carnegie quotes Professor James V. McConnell: “People who smile… tend to manage, teach, and sell more effectively and to raise happier children. There’s far more information in a smile than a frown. That’s why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment.”
So, if you’re convinced, or if you aren’t, I challenge you to go to a mirror, shiny window, or your smartphone camera, and look at your face. Close your eyes, pretend someone just walked up to you, and smile like you always do. Open your eyes. Is that a smile or a grimace? Worse, is it a rictus?
Oh dear. I hope not.
Then consider this. Daniel Pink says:
A genuine smile involves two facial muscles: (1) the zygomatic major muscle, which stretches from the cheekbone and lifts the corners of the mouth; and (2) the outer part of the orbicularis oculi muscle, which orbits the eye, and is involved in ‘pulling down the eyebrows and the skin below the eyebrows, pulling up the skin below the eye, and raising the cheeks.’
Artificial smiles involve only the zygomatic major. The reason: we can control that muscle, but we can’t control the relevant part of the orbicularis oculi muscle. It contracts spontaneously—and only when we’re experiencing enjoyment…
In other words to detect a fake smile, look at the eyes.
Observe. Here is a picture of me faking a smile.
And here is a picture of me actually smiling.
Now that you know how to detect a fake smile, you’ll see it in yourself and in others. Stop it. Stop faking it. Leadership guru Tim Marks says that he had to practice in front of a mirror, and even practice smiling while driving in order to make a genuine smile a habit. It mattered that much to him.
I’ve tried to make it a reflex—walk past a person, and smile. Or, if nothing else, try to look pleasant. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded, but I’ve made progress. And now I work at a place where I have to wear a mask (not the retail job), and the eyes are the only way to tell that I’m smiling, so it better be genuine.
Well, am I smiling? Am I?
And no, my profession is not ‘bandito’.
Life is hard, and sometimes we are so tired and beat down that it feels impossible to eke out a smile. In times like those, we need the kindness and the smile of another person. It’s important to realize that others have the same need. If a smile is what it takes to brighten up a day, a room, a conversation, a job then that is not too much to ask. And whatever you do, rid your life of the smile grimace, and you will, at least, offend fewer retail clerks.
Carnegie, Dale: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster, 1936.
Pink, Daniel: A Whole New Mind. The Penguin Group, 2006.