There’s a smile… and then there’s a smile. 

It’s not just a grin or a smirk, though they’re distant cousins. Sure, the corners of your mouth lift up when you say “cheese” for that photo. You might even flash those pearly whites. But that’s about all they share in common.

Those lesser smiles lack something that genuine smiles alone possess… and it’s all in the eyes. The orbicularis oculi muscle, to be precise.

“Other muscles can simulate a smile, but only the peculiar tango of the zygomatic major [a muscle in our cheeks] and the orbicularis oculi produces a genuine expression of positive emotion,” reports Psychological Science, “and most consider it the sole indicator of true enjoyment.” 

These kinds of smiles, dubbed Duchenne smiles by those who study them, aren’t just an indicator of inner joy. Studies have found that the physical act of smiling is like a feedback loop that can lift our spirits and reinforce happiness, a hypothesis championed by Charles Darwin himself. Smiles help us recover from stress. They make other people think we’re more competent and leave customers more satisfied. The intensity of our smiles has been tied to lower rates of divorce and greater life expectancy

One TED expert even cites a British study that found smiles are as stimulating to our brains as up to 2,000 chocolate bars, or a cool $25,000 in cash. (No wonder Amazon’s logo has a built-in smile.)

Yet the simple smile is deeply complex. We do it for a variety of reasons, like embarrassment, grief, or even deceit. The frequency, duration, and character of our smiles are influenced by variables like age and culture. Forced to slap a fake smile on your face at work? That might increase your risk of burnoutand after-hours drinking. The traditional idea that a Duchenne smile is impossible to feign met opposition in a study that showed we can imitate it easily and on command. In many areas, the science is still out.

But all complexity aside, one truth is clear: a genuine smile is a powerful thing.

Sales: better with a smile

People buy from people. People they trust. People they like. A genuine smile doesn’t just make us feel better. It makes other people feel better about us… and makes them smile too. Especially during tough times.

Smiles send a message

A beaming smile tells someone that you’re glad to see them. That you’re confident about yourself and your job. That you love what you do. That you believe in what you do and the product or service you sell. A neutral face or indifference, on the other hand, is much more ambiguous – and makes it more difficult to close a deal.

Smiles are contagious

Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra are among those who sang, “When you’re smiling (the whole world smiles with you).” And there’s some truth behind those lyrics. Not only do smiles spark a feeling of reward in others, but we also have an instinct for facial mimicry – meaning people quite literally smile with us if the smile’s a genuine one. 

So the simple act of smiling isn’t just a show of confidence or happiness. It’s a mood-booster to those around you, and an important part of building trust.

Smiles go beyond face-to-face

You don’t need to meet someone in-person or face-to-face for a smile to transmit the warm-and-fuzzies. Smile on a phone call, and most people on the other end can tell when you’re wearing a Duchenne smile (these auditory smiles could be just as contagious as visible ones, too). 

And don’t forget to smile when you’re writing. Your positivity is an emotional contagion that transmits even over social networks. Your negativity does too, for that matter. So mind your mood when you write.

Smiles help us empathize

The smile on your face – Duchenne or otherwise – is a window into your inner state. Mimicking someone else’s smile can help you distinguish if it’s a true smile or a sarcastic one; a strained one or an embarrassed one. The same goes for other facial expressions, too – trying them on yourself can help you feel what others are feeling.

In fact, when asked to empathize emotionally with others, we often do this kind of mirroring without realizing it!

Spread those smiles

We get it, there won’t be a reason to smile every day, especially in this climate. Think of a smile in these situations as you would social distancing, sometimes it’s for the benefit of others around you.

A smile alone doesn’t guarantee sales success. It takes more than two muscles to pull that off. Still, top performers tend to share some common traits, including empathy and emotional awareness, which are closely tied to a cheerful disposition. And in a race to be more buyer-centric, it’s an important tool in your toolkit.

So, in the immortal words of Vitamin C: Put a smile on your face and make the world a better place. (And go make some sales while you’re at it.)


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