What's in a smile?

On the one hand, a smile is a sign of friendship, openness, and good intentions. From early childhood, we are socialised to smile in a social context. That’s how we show joy, affection, attraction, and recognition. A smile is the ultimate social glue that allows to quickly build rapport, signal trust, and express empathy.

On the other hand, however, a smile is a submissive gesture. Researchers looked at chimpanzees and noticed that a low-status chimp will “smile” at another, more threatening chimp, to show that he doesn’t pose a threat. A smile is part of survival mechanism, a body language cue that animals, including us humans, use to appease, to show fear and ask for mercy. Have you noticed that „alphas” always smile less than those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy ladder?

Some people smile when they are embarrassed, anxious or angry. A smile is the easiest way to cover up a socially undesirable emotion. However, too much smile, especially in a business environment, may backfire on you by decreasing your authority and undermining your credibility.

How often and how long it is appropriate to smile depends on culture. Some cultures, such as Italy, France, Latin America, are more expressive than others, say Sweden or Germany. That is why it is best to smile only when you have a genuine reason for it. If you do that, way people will see you as confident and assertive as well as warm and approachable.

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