Several years ago I had a shocking experience that permanently changed my outlook. I’m afraid the traces of that experience began in high school. As a high school football player, we had a strictly enforced protocol among the players for team photos. Forget saying, “Cheese” – everyone needed to wear a game face. Later, I joined the military and the same code of conduct applied. Several years after that, I was serving as a consultant on a project with the Defense Intelligence Agency. By then I’d earned a top secret security clearance and reported to work on a heavily guarded military base. On my way in one day, I happened to see a photo pop up on the security officer’s monitor as I scanned my badge. The screen showed one of the meanest mugs I’d seen in a long time. And it belonged to me!
I suppose by that time I had mastered the art of the game face to the point it had become second nature. The fellow on the screen (my picture) looked ill-humored, impatient and most of all, intimidating. I reasoned with myself that the chances of encountering an enemy face-to-face were really quite low. But in my role as a consultant, I interacted every single day with clients and colleagues on important issues that required my influence. That’s when I made a permanent decision – I committed to ditching the game face permanently and replacing it with a smile.
Did you know that Charles Schwab estimated that his smile had been worth a million dollars? Smiling for the sake of friendliness is a noble sentiment. But I want to show you that smiling can actually get you much more of what you want from a business standpoint as well.
Let me share with you seven things that a smile communicates in a professional interaction.
“I’m a positive person.” – Positivity
If you want to send an instant message about your personal brand, flash a smile. Let people know that not only did you show up, but you’re happy to be there. Studies have shown that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, and a smile communicates positivity instantaneously.
“I’m happy with who I am.” – Self-Confidence
Have you ever noticed that folks who lack confidence have a hard time offering a genuine smile? Maybe they can give a nervous or deflective smile, but that’s about it. Instead of worrying about their own limitations, self-confident people offer a smile devoid of ulterior motives.
“I care about you more than my own problems.” – Empathy
Your problems are obviously important to you, but a smile communicates otherwise. It’s unfortunate how busyness and stress thwart our ability to connect with others. Choosing to smile despite circumstances can help overcome this.
“Let’s connect.” – Approachability
If you need to reach out to a new group you don’t know well, but you know someone in the group has a great smile, who will you contact first? Obviously, it’s the person with the smile. Why? It’s simply easier, more enjoyable and less emotionally taxing to interact with someone who is approachable.
“Let’s figure this out together.” – Collaboration
In a business setting, a smile can communicate an unsolicited offer to collaborate. Maybe not on the surface, but it’s the next step after approachability. If you are happy to interact with someone, it follows that you would be happy to see them succeed as well – including with your involvement.
“Let’s work together.” – Business Development
I work with many vendor partners and the ones I enjoy most and seek to do the most business with are the ones who are positive, collaborative and make my problems their top priority. A smile is the invitation that opens the door. It’s the first competitive advantage – and it’s the easiest and cheapest form of marketing there is.
“I have your best interest in mind.” – Commitment
There is a difference between a smile to get someone’s business and a smile to keep someone’s business. One is genuine and one isn’t. One is a long-term commitment and one is only short-term. The best smiles are the ones that last.
So how do you learn to smile if you’ve been accustomed to being a grouch? My favorite example comes from a young lady named Anjeli. In a professional development class we attended together, she shared how she had forced herself to smile in the mirror all the while playing a YouTube clip of a speech by the politician she most despised. She figured if she could smile through the clip, she could smile in any occasion. So can all of us, I believe.
Wherever you land on the smile spectrum, I encourage you to refresh your commitment. Not only will it make you a friendlier, happier person, it’s likely to put dollars in your pocket as well.