The man who gives little with a smile gives more than the man who gives much with a frown. –Jewish Proverb
When it comes to building trust and rapport, this principle is one of the top seven that we have found to be important. Let me illustrate what it means with an example.
I spent a lot of my time in college as many of us did – trying to keep up. I was too preoccupied with my grades, my classes and my never-ending list of assignments to pay much attention to greeting others warmly with a smile as I walked around campus. It’s not that I was in a bad mood – I just didn’t pay attention to making an effort to show it.
In my senior year, I was at a party with some friends one evening, joking and laughing a lot. At one point in the conversation, a guy with whom I had never really had much interaction spoke up.
“Hey, I want you to know something,” he began, gesturing towards me. “I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by you.”
I was surprised! This guy was a football player and had the physique to go with it – 6’2″, 250 lbs – not the kind of guy I would expect to be intimidated by much of anyone, let alone me – a girl of pretty average size. “Really??” I said, laughing. “How is that possible?”
He looked a little bit embarrassed, but decided to tell me anyway. “Well, you’re always walking around scowling, looking like you could bite someone’s head off,” he said, laughing nervously. “In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen you smile!”
It was my turn to be embarrassed! Here all this time, I’d been so absorbed in my own worries about getting through the daily challenges of school that I had put off at least one person who decided I was unapproachable because I forgot to tell my face that I was open and accessible.
Smiling more isn’t about being fake or superficial. It’s about communicating to those around you that you are available for conversation and general interaction with the world. I’m glad I learned my lesson while still in college. Imagine people you know in the workplace – maybe even yourself – who don’t make an effort to smile at others. The message being sent is the opposite of what most of us would want – that we are not open and available for conversation, interaction, or collaboration with others. What message do you want to send?
Ellen Patnaude is Vice President of Instruction for the Northeast region. She is based in Detroit, Michigan, but she also teaches in Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toronto, Baltimore and other Northeast cities.