Is that My Smile?

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. 

Leo F. Buscaglia

As we are emerging from the isolation of the pandemic we are starting to come to grips with our ability to socialize, to present ourselves in real face to face situations. We are pretty rusty! We all need a tune-up. Amazing what we have forgotten or don’t want to remember.

“Business casual”. Yeah your cutoffs and T-shirts are going to have to make way for whatever fits or a whole new wardrobe.

I think most of us can cleanup pretty well to comply with the dress codes.

But your social graces may need a real honest to goodness makeover!

We all remember that the words, the content of what we say is dwarfed by how we say it. What our face, our tone of voice and our body language says is 93% of the communication.

Recent research from Carnegie Mellon is showing how Zoom/virtual meetings are making some less intelligent—lowering emotional intelligence and even “collective intelligence”—the potential of a group to be greater than the sum. The key is the so called “theory of mind”—the ability to understand someone else’s emotional state, and how it differs from our own. And the ability to garner the contributions of the group. This study focused on facial expressions and how they synced. It also evaluated the verbal/vocal cues of inflection, tone, rhythm. Good eye contact is essential. But do we know when we are having “good” eye contact online. I still forget to look into the eye of the camera instead of into the eyes of the speaker! Nevertheless, we look to their eyes to read minds, their engagement, their agreement or disagreement.

The eyes have it. Get ready for more direct eye contact. Don’t look away.  

A colleague told me she will going to the office three days a week. She has never met any of her co-workers, or her own staff in person. Their Zoom meetings have been cameras off, except the person speaking for 2 years! Cameras off??!!

The return to work will be a reveal of what people really look like versus their 2019 Linked-in pic! Like a bad dating or class reunion moment.

Make sure you bring your real smile with you.

Decades ago I ran tele-sales and customer service phone banks. I remember when I visited the operations for the first time. I saw mirrors on everybody’s desk. I said, naively, “What’s that mirror for?” One of the operators told me it showed what our faces looks like while we are talking. As we know, when we smile, we sound very different. I think we can all use a mirror on our phones!  So we knew back in the dark ages how much facial expressions determine our ability to communicate effectively.

We can only imagine, if you don’t have or know children, what more than two years of zoom education has done to our kids. So many advantages. So many disadvantages. But one of the stark outcomes of this virtual world is that children, young children lost two precious years of socialization. While there has been documented “learning loss”. The socialization loss may not be fully understood for a generation.

Is that my smile? Where have you been?

I was with an elementary school teacher the other day; he was telling me that they have identified kids who have lost their ability to socialize. Of course, classroom management. getting young people to pay attention has been a challenge time immemorial. But this class identified six young students who were really struggling. One of the exercises they decided to do was to give them mirrors. These kids have grown up on Zoom. The children were asked to look into their mirrors for the purpose of seeing themselves and to see themselves when they’re interacting with others. The initial idea was to help young people identify what emotions look like. They ended up smiling. And one of the students said, “Is that what my smile looks like? Is that my smile?”

Not blaming schools, the pandemic, or parents. We have to learn together the losses and lessons of helping our kids, our colleagues, and ourselves to understand the re-socialization we are all facing—literally.

Tell your face.

I used to have an assistant named Pat and when I came in in the mornings she would say “Good morning!”, but she would never smile. I would say, ”Good morning, how are you?”, with a smile.  And she would say, “Fine” without a smile. This went on for a number of  days until I arrived and we did our scripted exchanges. I said, “IIs It a Good morning? How would I know, from your face? You need to tell your face! We laughed. Not sure I could get away with that today. So our face to face awkwardness  got more awkward. Our isolation and remoteness have altered the way we comport ourselves and how synch our faces to our words.

Whether you like it or not Zoom is here to stay. But now we have to toggle between virtual and face-to-face. They build on each other. Trust, culture, collective greatness all depends on are presence, awareness and authenticity.

If the eyes are the windows then the smile is the sliding glass door to the soul. It is the face of your heart.

We don’t need me to go into the extraordinary body of research on smiling. And you know intuitively that a real smile, that researchers have dubbed the Duchenne smile. One that conveys true enjoyment. French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne, who studied emotional expression said in 1862 that an authentic smile displays the “sweet emotions of the soul”. A smile that comes from the soul reflects your real light and your energy that is joyful. No one is lifted by your semi smile, your polite smile or even your enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. The research is exhaustive and conclusive on how it helps to manage one’s own cardiovascular system, mortality, success but also impacts the wellbeing of others. I am not trying to put a happy face on real issues and real problems we face. I am saying everything starts with connection, community and collaboration.  And we must see the “good” in every morning we are able to do what we love, for people we love, to change the world—we smile. 

If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. Thich Nhat Hanh

So how do we help ourselves and other people particularly our young people to navigate from virtual to reality from Zoom to real time. Re-building our socialization toolboxes though intentional and sincere eye contact and smiles. Tell your face, that will tell other people’s faces that you are present, compassionate and ready to reconnect, build meaningful relationships. That if anything can restore our sense of normalcy, it will start with your eyes and begin with a smile.

Thanks for reading and smiling! John

Non-verbal is the dominant form of how you express yourself. This includes your body language including your eyes and your smile.

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