5 reasons you need to rethink telling people to smile more at work

All kinds of articles exist about the benefits of smiling, both socially and personally. And it all makes sense, yet you’re still probably not going to find me randomly smiling without cause. I think we can all acknowledge that a scowl is different from a straight face, unless you just happen to have a severe case of RBF, but that description is usually reserved for women (yay male privilege?!).

Here’s another fun fact. Despite all of the written words out there on why you should smile more, this is what I get when I type “you should smile more” into the Googles.

Even before seeing the list of cringe-worthy stories, I already knew this was a thing from hanging out on Twitter, and just to be sure, I ran it by a couple of my lady colleagues. From what I can tell, a lot of women experience this more so in social settings with some clown trying to hit on them, but it’s equally annoying (with the same sexist undertones) at work.

I like to think I’m an exceptional person and a feminist, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself on the receiving end of this advice typically reserved for women. Or maybe people dishing out shallow, worthless advice are getting to be more equal opportunity. That would be progress, right? Maybe in a subtraction by addition sort of way.

Anyway, if going around telling people to smile more is the only thing you have to offer, I want help you become a better human being. And here are just a few of the reasons why.

Maybe they don’t smile more because they don’t like their teeth

Not that I would be going al cheshire cat anyway, but I have been self-conscious about my teeth for years. From straightness to color of teeth and/or gums. It was more than enough to want to keep my lips sealed at all times.

Maybe aren’t smiling more because they’re sad and you caught them on a bad day

Life happens to people. Maybe someone close to them just got diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe it’s a lost loved one’s birthday. There are countless reasons a person may be struggling on a given day. Instead of seeing what you think is a sad face and saying “you should smile more” try something like “how are you feeling today” or “is there anything I can do to help you today?” Basically, try to act like you have some substance instead of mimicking some sort of brainless cardboard cutout.

Maybe their thinking face doesn’t include grinning like an idiot so trying to smile more is counterproductive

Have you heard about people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg minimizing decisions and places that require focus other than improving their companies? Perhaps you’re more familiar with this from xmen. The point is forcing your brain to work on low value tasks takes away from dedicating as much effort as possible to the real problems. When people are talking I’m focused on information absorption, processing, and analysis. No apology should be required for that.

Maybe they were smiling until you showed up and they would smile more if you went away

You might want to sit down for this one. I know you’re a good person and all but…maybe that smile was there before you sauntered up for a friendly facial critique. Perhaps you’re breaking that person’s concentration. Or maybe your consistent unsolicited advice always feels unpleasant/ threatening and what you see is a result of classical conditioning. Watch how they interact with others and do some self reflection to make sure you’re not the smile killer.

It’s not everyone else’s job to make you feel comfortable

If you tell an off-color or just terrible joke, maybe you should feel uncomfortable. It’s 2018 and we need to do better at not trying to mold every person we encounter into a reflection of ourselves. If I say I enjoyed my weekend but decide to forego the celebratory cartwheels or some other theatrics that someone else might demonstrate, it doesn’t make my statement any less true.

If you are uncomfortable with how someone else establishes rapport (in a professional manner) with people but they get results, you shouldn’t be uncomfortable with it and it shouldn’t be a point of conversation.

All this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be aware of how people perceive you, especially in a service business. It absolutely matters. Delivery almost always matter more than the messaging, which includes body language. That’s a fact, but there is much more that goes into that and the sooner we all can appreciate those differences the better off we’ll be.