According to Krys et al “smiling individuals are usually perceived more favourably than non-smiling ones”. They cite numerous studies “demonstrating that smiling individuals are perceived as happier, more attractive, communal, competent, likable, approachable, and friendly, and that a smile from another promises a safe and satisfying interaction” (1).
This is enough incentive to make a mini-habit of smiling when I greet and interact with my patients. I don’t believe that any of us would doubt the value in making a good impression from the outset – the old saying that you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression really resonates with me.
However it is not as simple as it may seem on the surface.
There are many different types of smile, some sources describe as many as 19 (with only 6 for happiness). I still have strong memories of the forced, nervous smile going into the waiting room to call my first patients at Dental School being mirrored by equally nervous responses from the patient!
Guillame Duchenne, a 19th century French anatomist, identified the so-called genuine or Duchenne smile. This was verified by the modern authority on facial expression Paul Ekman who described it as “smiling in which the muscle that orbits the eye is active in addition to the muscle that pulls the lip corners up” (2). Note the incongruous expressions of botoxed celebrities who can’t express genuine smiles as their orbicularis oculi muscles don’t work!
As well as different types of smile there may also be different cultural interpretations of smiling. There is a Russian proverb which says, “smiling with no reason is a sign of stupidity” (1) and at the recent soccer World Cup, after spending billions of dollars on infrastructure there was a last-ditch realisation that volunteers and transport officials needed to be taught to smile and be helpful to foreigners.
Fortunately, this cross-cultural variation bodes well in the Australian context – in a 2016 study there was a strong correlation between smiling and perceived honesty in Australia (second only to Switzerland in a study of 44 cultures) – interestingly “this cultural variability was related to societal corruption levels”. Also in Australia “smiling individuals are rated as significantly more intelligent” than non-smiling individuals! (1).
To summarise, if you are going to make smiling a mini habit;
- Make it genuine – smile like you mean it;
- Be aware of any potential cultural context of smiling;
- As a leader in your practice once you have practiced making a smile your own default setting or ‘resting face’ consider “what’s the ‘resting face’ of your brand, your business, your website?”
- Krys et al. Be careful where you smile: Culture Shapes Judgements of Intelligence and Honesty of Smiling Individuals. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour. 2016
- Ekman et al. The Duchenne smile: Emotional expression and brain physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1990