I suffer from permanent bitch face. I look serious and mildly annoyed when my face is at rest. A few weeks ago I decided to make a conscious effort to smile more while at work. I never liked the idea of smiling for other people. The idea of pretending for the sake of other's comfort always seemed inauthentic and dishonest. I just told myself that I'm not a "bubbly" kind of person. I provide good customer service through expertise, not emotional positivity.
I decided to try an experiment though, not for others' sake, but for my own sake. To utilize smiling as a tool and the goal was to provide better customer service, attract people instead of repelling them, and to see what kind of effects a simple smile might produce. The effects were immediate.
The first step was to practice smiling in the mirror and when no one was around. I tried to think of something funny or pretending that I just heard a joke. This technique works very well. Instead of just looking like I'm squinting or grimacing or trying too hard. By smiling with the eyes and just a little bit of an upward grin creates a subtle and convincing smile.
After beginning to employ this new tool I found immediate results. It doesn't seem like it should be surprising but I was genuinely surprised that when I was smiling and someone looked at me it seemed that most people couldn't help but smile back. If I added a bit of eyebrow raise they couldn't help but engage with me as I approached them asking if they needed any help.
My interactions started off positive instead of neutral or dismissive. Even if someone wasn't particularly excited to interact they usually would put on a quick fake smile and politely say no thanks. There are still those that do not care much about interacting regardless of a positive face but the vast majority of people respond in a positive way to someone smiling and looking happy to help.
The second thing I noticed was more subtle but undeniable. The words that came out of my mouth while I was smiling sounded happier and more enthusiastic. When I don't smile and simply ask someone if they need anything it just sounds like an unemotional statement but when I smiled the words took on a more upbeat tone and I think a slightly higher pitch. I think that this comes across less threatening and more approachable. This effect even works over the phone. Smiling while talking changes the inflection to a more positive expression.
Another positive effect is that the more I smile the more I become emotionally more positive. I have heard of this effect from somewhere before so it might be an expectation bias but it certainly seems to be true. Smiling on purpose and more often seems to have a feedback to the brain convincing it that things are better off making you genuinely happier. This makes sense in that when you do things that add to your sociability you attract more positivity and engage in better interactions with others. This is highly desirable for social creatures that depend on others for success and our biology seems to reinforce this behavior.
Another positive effect of smiling is creating a bit of positive attention from females. When I smile at females many of them smile back which reinforces confidence in my ability to interact with attractive women. I come across as more approachable and confident with women and because I sound more friendly the interactions are more personal.
Also, when employing a smile it seems easier to add jokes or personal stories as the entire interaction is more friendly. If the customer responds well to the smile then it allows them to be more personal and tell me what they need as well.
After about a week of practicing this technique at work, I started to find myself smiling when I wasn't at work and I found that the same results took place. When I would just walk around a store smiling people would smile back. I think when a person gives eye contact with a smile it comes across as both confident and attractive. People wonder what you might be like or why you are happy. Positive people want to be around positive people and negative people secretly want to be positive so you represent a kind of ideal when you smile and display confidence with eye contact.
What I have learned after doing this is that you don't want to smile too much which is also true of eye contact. Too much smiling, especially if the topic turns serious comes across as disconnected or unempathetic. The same is true if the topic turns fun. If you don't smile when someone says something they think is funny you can come across as unemotional, dismissive and unempathetic.
This is not a cure-all for customer service interactions. Some customers do not care at all that you are happy and I imagine that some of them are annoyed that you are happy as they are not. Body language is a very powerful communication device and understanding the effects of different behaviors helps one get the results one wants from social interactions.
I am reminded now of a Ted Talk about body language about not being your authentic self (below). When your job is to interact with others coming across as unapproachable will not lead to positive results so consciously altering your body language might not be completely authentic but it is a form of self-control that can help you better get along with others and get better results in life.