Create change with a smile

A smile can affect mood, behavior and outcome

Just the other day, I noticed an unhappy looking man sitting on a bench outside the entrance of a grocery store. I mustered up my best smile and said “Good morning!” He looked up, his face and eyes brightened, and he returned my smile, with a “Hi – good morning to you too!”

A smile is one of the most recognized non-verbal behaviors known to humankind, understood by people around the world. Can a smile increase meaning and value of our public interactions? Will it enhance the outcome of our educational efforts? Is it a important component for creating change?

According to a study by Nicolas Gueguen and Marie-Agnes De Gail (2003), The Effect of Smiling on Helping Behavior, a smile influences behavior, enhancing the interactions that follow. Their results indicated that a smile affects the mood and behavior of the receiver, creating a willingness to be more helpful in situations that follow their smile encounter. My brief ‘smile’ experience with the man on the bench boosted my mood and made me feel more receptive to the people I encountered later in the day. I expect it enhanced his experiences too.

No matter what you do for a living, it may behoove you to start most any human encounter with a smile. A smile is an important communication tool that builds relationships. A smile may help a person feel more comfortable, bridge the gap between a variety of socio-economic groups and revitalize a conversation. A smile may even help to bring about change.

Sir Richard Branson, world renowned entrepreneur and owner of the Virgin Group, noted in a December 2012 article how two well-known leaders, Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Jose Maria Figueres, the former president of Cosa Rica, are always smiling as they bring about change. Sir Branson goes on to articulate what most of us already know, but may sometimes forget – smiling is infectious and it is free!

A smile is not the end all, but it is a beginning. It can be a connector that affects a persons mood and invokes positive behavior. Therefore, when meeting someone or whenever appropriate – smile!

Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of planning community conversations and public forums, developing smart goals and results-oriented objectives, board member professional development and many other topics.