In our World Class Customer Service training programs, we spend a lot of time talking about how to ensure that our customers consistently get the message that we as an organization and as individuals genuinely care about them. Anyone who has been to one of our programs knows how much time we spend on managing our facial expressions. One of the core lessons we vividly demonstrate is the tremendous impact that a simple smile has on people. We also demonstrate how it is a behaviour which virtually everyone needs to improve. It may sound a little contradictory then, to be writing about the importance of ‘getting serious.’

The ability to influence the emotional states of the people around you is critical in establishing connections. In a customer service role, we want people to be happy – hence the smile. But, as odd as it sounds, it can actually become counterproductive if smiling is the only thing you do. One of the great secrets to connecting with and influencing other people is to understand the power of contrast in the emotions we display. Take, for example, the iconic bad boy of American Idol and Britain‘s Got Talent,Simon Cowell. Most of the time, Simon keeps a serious and generally unpleasant demeanour. He scowls, frowns and rolls his eyes. When do people talk about him the most, however? When he finally smiles in approval. Because his smile stands in such great contrast to his general demeanour, the impact it carries is powerful indeed.

A similar impact can be created when a person with a generally happy demeanour creates a contrast to demonstrate their more serious side. A happy person whose face suddenly turns serious sends a clear message to people that whatever is going on is Very Important and worth paying attention to. Where Simon’s ‘negative-to-positive’ contrast is great for television, the ‘positive-to-serious’ contrast is more effective in a business environment. The message we want to send is that we are positive team influences who understand how to bear down during tough situations. The ‘positive-to-serious’ demeanour is a hallmark of highly charismatic people.

So while the overall rule – smile ’till it hurts – still holds true, don’t be afraid to let your coworkers see your serious side once in a while. You’ll be amazed at the impact it can have on your relationships.

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