Successful People Smile

We deliver information through words all the time — sending an email, making a phone call, talking to someone in person, posting an update on social media. But how are the other, more arbitrary points of connection communicated, like intention, purpose, and perception? We can craft words and structure sentences to appeal to the reason of our listener, but it’s our tone, our vocal inflection, our body language, and our countenance that gives those words substance.

One of the ways that words come to life is through a smile. When we start with a smile, we will naturally craft sentences and choose vocabulary that’s bent toward positivity because our countenance is positive. The reverse is true as well — starting with positive words will inform our countenance and inspire a smile. Scientists call this a positive feedback loop. Essentially, "our brain feels good and tells us to smile, we smile and tell our brain it feels good and so forth.” 1


I received a phone call yesterday from someone with whom I was coordinating a meeting. I was fairly upbeat in answering the phone and I barely caught the drab response come through from the other end, “Hi. This is Lindsey”, she says unemotionally.

“Hi, Lindsey! How are you?”, I happily responded.

“Good” was the quiet and curt reply.

As that “good” escaped her mouth, it was if time slowed a bit and I caught myself actually envisioning what her facial expression must have looked like in that moment. I imagine it was indifferent — neither pleasant nor dreadful — but definitely leaning toward annoyed. It was clear to me in that moment — when visibility in conversation is limited, tone is king.

There was a study done by scientists at the University of Portsmouth that concluded “smiling affects how we speak, to the point that listeners can identify the type of smile based on sound alone” 2. This is why when we’re talking on the phone, for example, it’s so important to utilize all touch points of communication even if the listener can’t physically see us. They won’t be able to see our body language and our facial expressions but if we utilize them anyway and see them as tools that can command positivity, then putting a smile on our face and using warm, welcoming body language will help us craft the language and meaning we actually want to communicate.

Let’s say you’re a vendor selling a service to an organization. They’re not all on the same page and communicating well internally and this is causing you to think that they might be bringing you in too early. However, they’re timeline is tight and they want you to go ahead and get started on the work as they continue to work some things out internally. But you’ve been down this road before and you know it’s better to wait until they can come back to you cohesively with some clear goals and direction. Effectively, you have to tell the customer that your team cannot start on the work until then.

There are a couple of ways that you could communicate this to the customer. One option is to say, “No, we can’t do that because we need you to do X, Y and Z first”.

Or you could say, “We really want to offer you the best service that meets all of your goals. And the best way to ensure that is to have your team regroup internally first to hash out X, Y, and Z and then we will step in to do A, B, and C to finish out that process. Feel free to bring us in at any time for suggestions or advice on any of these issues. We’re here and happy to help."

Both conclusions are actually the same — ultimately, you are not going to start on the work unless and until they can communicate as a team and offer some clear direction. But one of those responses is short, snide and almost accusatory. The other has a positive tone and ultimately leaves them feeling that you’re in it with them and you're here to serve them no matter what.

Just as an exercise, try saying the first response with a smile on your face. It’s almost impossible because “no” won’t even be a vocabulary option for someone who’s smiling.

We can be completely irked, annoyed, and in a rush to get out of a beat-down meeting, but if we can command a smile while talking, regardless of every other emotion flying around, our turn of phrase could save a client relationship from crumbling. 

Here is the reality of this practice. It takes exactly that — practice. It’s hard work and goes against everything our human nature wants to do and say. Being positive is not a personality thing, it is a maturity thing, and it is a necessity in maintaining good relationships. Relationships are the lifeblood of business. Knowledge, experience and degrees can be found anywhere, but finding those with the ability to engender and maintain good relationship with people is a rarity and the most understated staple of good business.

Emotions and egos will continue to get thrown around in the day-to-day hustle. So, as you practice not being fazed by that and you gain an ability to lead with positivity and kindness no matter the situation, there’s no holding you back from success.

Successful people smile.