I am Smiling

“Hey kid! Would it kill ya to smile?” said some drunk from the customer side of the bar.

“I am smiling,” I’d quickly reply before putting my head down and getting back to work.

I think my straight face is my biggest weakness at work. My normal resting face is kind of intense looking, and I consider my performance at work a serious matter. My seemingly sour puss can cause me to appear intimidating or unapproachable to those who don’t know me. This is not a becoming feature for a leader.

Even when I was sixteen years old, tending bar at my father’s restaurant, I approached work with an intense seriousness. I’d try to wash the glasses, unload the cases of beer, pour the drinks, and clean the ash trays as fast as I could, like I was in a competition. I thought the customers were picking on me, asking me to smile, but I probably was scaring them. My stern mug has been a problem outside of the workplace too. I remember being twenty-one at a dance club hearing a young lady mumble, “You’re too serious,” as she danced her way to a less intense dancer. At least I’m consistent.

I spend too much time at work to be so damn serious all the time. No one wants an intense boss walking around with the look superman makes when he’s shooting lasers out of his eyes. Appearing too serious can have real consequences for a manager. I was poorly reviewed when I was a new manager for being unapproachable. I’ve come a long way over the years, mostly by focusing on relationships with my coworkers, but it wouldn’t kill me to lighten up and smile a little more, I guess.

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4 thoughts on “I am Smiling

  1. Really enjoyed reading this. I remember when I first spoke with you and met you, and I wasn’t sure how to read you!

    Interestingly enough, sometimes being too quick with a smile can be a detriment too (as I have learned). It makes coworkers/subordinates think you are too easy-going. There is absolutely a healthy balance that all effective managers need to achieve.

  2. Hi, John – – –

    Thanks for this very self-reflective post. As a generally “serious” person myself — who, mostly in my younger years, heard similar comments about my need to “lighten up” — I can definitely sympathize. I wonder, though, if “smiling more” is necessarily the answer …

    To digress to a sports analogy … early in his career with the Mets, young, speedy shortstop Jose Reyes (now with the Marlins) injured his hamstring several times. The team’s “solution” was to teach him to run differently. Not surprisingly, this experiment was abandoned after less than a year, when everyone realized it was quite ridiculous (Reyes’ running style — and speed — being a God-given matter, not a “learned” behavior). Instead, they decided to help him stretch/prepare better — then they set him loose to run as his nature dictated. Much better plan.

    To wit … how much people smile is a function of “nature” I would say (“nature” in this case being personality). I’m not sure that someone could “smile more” on purpose without it being seen and perceived as artificial/not genuine.

    Rather, I think it is much more a “state of mind,” if you will. What I find that most people find attractive is … someone who enjoys their work. Whether a manager is smiling or not, if they truly enjoy their work, this comes through loud and clear to those around them. It is a very engaging quality — we want to associate with people who are energized and excited by what they are doing. My small suggestion might be this … assuming that you enjoy your work (which it seems you do), are there any other ways of communicating this to your team (and customers)? If you can help them see and perceive your excitement for your work, this should go a long way toward you being perceived as more approachable.

    Again, thanks for the public self-reflection. I’ve learned a lot from it.

    Michael Brisciana

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