To Smile or Not To Smile

Positive body language including the use of the smile is commonly regarded as being helpful for engendering feelings of rapport and connectedness between people. As negotiators, we may smile when seeking to create an atmosphere of friendliness and willingness to work together.

First Read the Context, then the Body Language

Interestingly, western negotiation research shows that smiling appears to even among strangers in a one-off bargaining interaction. Also in situations of financial risk, people give positive attribution to and rely on friendly faces.

Clearly, smiling is helpful for negotiators. It demonstrates confidence, friendliness, a positive attitude, a good mood.Importantly, it signals cooperativeness. Smiling also suggests you are not dangerous and helps alleviate fear.

So how do you interpret the other party's comment when they say: 'Come on, smile! What's wrong with you today?'. Maybe your facial expression is saying something that you're feeling. Or are those who want you to smile saying something about themselves?

In fact anthropologists suggest the human smile originated as a baring of the teeth sign of submission. So should you smile with or without showing teeth? Smiling with lips together can look almost smug.

Can You Detect if the Smile is not a Smile?

Researchers say over 80 facial muscles are involved in smiling, and they describe over 50 types of human smile. For example, there is the famous 'mysterious inner smile' people travel a long way to see, that of da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'.

And skilled negotiators know about the smile you don't see: over the telephone you can project the sound of a smile by using a relaxed, upbeat tone of voice.

Question: why are watches advertised with their hands set at 10:10? Is someone trying to influence you?

Tips for Reading Fake Smiles

  • ‍To tell if a smile is not a smile, look specifically for the crinkle in the skin at the middle, outside corner of the eyes. If it is not there, the smile is probably fake.
  • ‍Note that authentic smiles are those that change rapidly from a small facial movement to a broad open expression.
  • ‍Be wary of taking any single body language cue and trying to conclude what the other party is thinking. To be of interpretive value, all facial expressions plus body gestures and movements must be viewed in groups and placed in context.

To discuss this article in more depth and explore developing your negotiation capabilities, please contact us via email or call +612 9299 9688.

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