What is it about smiles that, at least to Americans, are so appealing? I was buying something at my local CVS and when I chanced to smile at the checkout clerk who smiled back at me with a 100 watt smile. There was no apparent flirting going on. And, while I am most certainly capable of flirting, am pretty fit, and do look a bit younger than my chronological age, I was also at least as old as her grandfather. She was just responding to my smile. I walked out of that CVS with a general feeling of well being.
Smiles, it turns out, are a pretty ancient phenomenon. Smiling has been traced back over 30 million years to early primate fear and/or threat postures. Clearly, we have taken smiling to a new level. We use smiles to communicate such feelings as love, happiness, pride, contempt and embarrassment. They can also convey respect, patience, empathy, hospitality and compassion.
When treated to a smile, customers in stress situations are much more likely to report satisfaction with the way they were handled.
This smiling in humans (or even other primates) is not to be confused with apparent smiling in other mammals. For example, if you’re off on a hike in the country and a smiling wolf or bear crosses your path, (and you are not armed with an elephant gun), run as fast as you can. In fact, stop to put on your sneakers. You don’t actually have to out-run the bear; you just have to out-run your companion(s). The bear/wolf is not happy or friendly. He/she is snarling at you and is probably measuring you for dinner. Don’t look back.
But, let’s get back to human smiles. Why smile? Why should I care if you’re happy? First of all, we are a social animal. We get cues and signs from each other on appropriate situational behavior. And, if you are trying to generate a relationship of any sort, you should care if others are happy. Suppose you are at a business event and you meet someone who might be a good lead-source, or even a potential client. If, even before you stick out your hand and introduce yourself, you smile, the results can be amazing. First, your smile automatically makes you happy, positive, self confident. Then, second, your target will (most likely) respond in a similar fashion (unless he/she is one of the aforementioned wolves) thus making them more receptive to your approach. But, we’re here in the Big City, no wolves or bears for miles, so a smile is not only appropriate, but desirable. Anyway, who doesn’t like a smiler?
Dave Bresler is founder of the NYC-based networking group NetworkNetwork!