As we’ve mentioned in the past, image is a combination of appearance, behavior, and communication – the ABC’s, if you will. Communication is both verbal and non-verbal, and a smile is one of the most powerful non-verbal ways to communicate. Today, we’ll talk about how a smile affects your personal brand.
Smiling & Your Image
Despite the reputation that Philadelphians and other Northeasterners have as a gruff, impolite lot, Americans on the whole respond well to smiling. We smile when we run into old acquaintances, at networking events, and even sometimes at strangers on the street. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong wrote the classic “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You),” and we more or less expect retail workers to smile when we’re interacting with them. The phrase “service with a smile” didn’t just appear out of thin air, after all.
In our culture, a genuine smile communicates lots of positive things: openness, friendliness, happiness, and overall positivity. Salespeople smile to engender positive feelings in their clients and prospects, and CEO’s smile to engender trust and bond with their employees. Doctors who we consider to have “good bedside manner” will, amongst other things, smile at their patients.
In large part, Louis Armstrong’s adage is true: when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you. If you wish to make a good impression, a genuine smile is a good first step.
What’s a “Genuine” Smile?
We refer to a smile as being “genuine” when you can see it in the eyes. Those of us who’ve taken pictures with masks on during the pandemic know this well – no one will know you’re smiling unless you’re “smeyesing,” or smiling with the eyes.
A disingenuous smile, on the other hand, involves only the mouth. It comes off as insincere or fake and is an effective non-verbal way to communicate dismissiveness.
Image Is Regional
We came across an article that hammers home the fact that image mores changes from region to region, and certainly from one country to another. In the States, Northeasterners are known for being “rough, but real.” You might not like what we have to say or how we say it, but at least you know where we’re coming from. Some of us wear this with a badge of honor. Southerners are known for the opposite – politeness and gentility. West Coasters are more laid back, etc. You get the idea.
To bring it back to smiling, though – not every culture in the world appreciates a smile like Americans do.
Smiling in Russia
Where Americans smile very often, Russians have a different view on it. Without getting too deep into the country’s history, we can say that for many years, life as an average Russian was extremely difficult. It gets brutally cold. Economic prospects were dim for the majority for many years. Some estimates say that twenty million Russians died under Joseph Stalin’s early-to-mid twentieth century rule. For comparison, that’s a little more than 36 COVID-19 pandemics in the United States. It’s a staggering number.
No wonder Russians don’t seem to be as inclined to smile as we are. Still, it’s not that Russians don’t smile – they’re just a lot more judicious about how and when they do it. A smile is appropriate amongst friends and family as it shows affection. At best, smiling at a stranger would garner a “Do we know each other?” type of response.
Smiling at strangers is not viewed as polite the way it is here. If anything, Russians consider it insincere and secretive. This is one reason that salespeople and waitstaff don’t smile at customers. In the U.S., this would lead to a 1-star Yelp review almost instantly.
Tying it All Together
No matter in the East or West, a genuine smile is reflective of a good mood, a good relationship, and other positive attributes. To help maximize your personal brand, a genuine smile will go a long way. This is evidenced by the smiling faces we see in LinkedIn head shots and family photos – just be sure that you maintain a high level of oral hygiene. Nothing can ruin a smile quite like unbrushed or discolored teeth.