The power of a smile

Long ago, someone asked the late Charles Schwabb what the secret to his tremendous success was. His answer? His smile. Those who wrote about him often said that he had a brilliant, engaging smile. We can safely say that there was more to him than a great smile, but that he and many other highly successful people acknowledge the vital importance of a smile is a fact we who pursue continuing success ought not to ignore.

A good smile can break down indifference, turn a bad mood around, or just let someone know the world’s not all bad. The other day, I was in an unfamiliar city, and need change to feed a parking meter. Rather than risk valuable time trying to see for myself where I might make some change, I strolled over to the reception desk of the building I was in. As I approached, the group of women gathered there who’d been engaged in a lively conversation suddenly got quiet, and their faces became serious, as they didn’t know who this strange man was, and I’m told that I’m an imposing figure, though I am small. When I got a little closer, I smiled, and said, ‘Good morning.’ They all smiled back, seeming to be relieved that I was friendly. I smiled again, and said ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, it sure seemed interesting.’

One of them smiled, and said ‘Well, it’s Friday…’ and I smiled again, and they all laughed together. I laughed with them. Two minutes later, I walked away with change for a five, as one of the ladies insisted on making change for me. Now, I’m about 5’4″, with a broad build, a facial scar and a bit of a limp, so I can’t say I skated by on my looks. Yet a simple smile made my day a bit easier. Why? Very often the seeming indifference of people is really just a sort of emotional defensive stance. While there are some people who will remain sour after a good smile, more often than not, people will smile back, because a good smile conveys friendly intent.

Notice that I’m saying  a good smile. Some people will tell you to smile with your whole face, and while that’s good advice, I believe a great smile uses the whole body. I tend to lean forward when I walk, so when I approach, I’m usually thought to be aggressive, or ‘tough.’ It’s nothing macho, though; I just have a bad back and knees, so walking is sometimes awkward when the weather’s damp. However, once I am ready to engage, I stop, set my shoulders back, spread my hands, palms outward, and for that moment, I focus on my good intentions toward the person or people before me. With the ladies mentioned above, I thought to myself that they reminded me of my three sisters, and so to me, at least, the young ladies at the front desk were cute, almost child-like. That’s when I let the smile loose.

Always use open body language when you smile. Fully face the other person or people if possible. A smile that’s accompanied by folded arms, or a stooped posture will probably come across as a leer, especially if you are a man smiling at a woman. Also, relax! If you tense up, your smile may not come across as natural, and can therefore be taken as a sign of duplicity. So, some basic rules for a good smile:

1. Be genuine. While some people can put up a good front, most people can’t. To paraphrase an old adage, you’re not as mysterious as you think. Just be yourself.

2. Smile with your whole body. Let your body language reflect the wholesomeness of your intent.

3. Relax. Odds are, the person in front of you might be nervous, apprehensive, or just had a bad day, and your smile just might be the thing to make it better.

4. Practice your smile. By this I don’t mean try to create a fake smile, but rather smile more often. Smile at people for no reason at all. I try to do this often, because I’m rather serious and stoic, and I have a natural tendency toward frowning. If you’re a frowner, make a point of smiling at just about everyone you see, as long as it’s appropriate to do so.

While your smile alone isn’t enough to succeed in life, it will certainly go a long way in helping to build rapport that leads to relationships, which are the key to success in any endeavor.