Nat King Cole had a hit song in 1954 called “Smile.” The first verse goes like this:
“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though its breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”
Sentimental perhaps, but the Harvard Business Review has noted some substantive research that may validate the feeling of the song. HBR recently printed an interesting small item summing up an article by Tara Kraft Feil and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas titled, “Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expressions on the Stress Response.”
Feil states, “Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it,’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness, but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events.”
That may be overstating it a bit. However, without going into the technical details of their study, Feil and Pressman show that smiling during periods of tension and fear actually reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy. Says Pressman, “The next time you are stuck in traffic or experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ but it might actually help your heart health as well.”
Also, note the insights of Dr Amy Cuddy of Harvard. Cuddy posits that tiny tweaks to our physicality can lead to mighty changes in our life and leadership. She believes that non-verbals govern the way we think about ourselves and the larger world. For example, you can hold a pencil in your mouth in a way that artificially recreates a genuine smile. Odd as it my seem, forcing your face into a gesture of happiness actually makes you feel happy.
Of course, this does not mean we should all be walking around staring at each other with death’s head rictus of smiling inanity. But growing scientific evidence suggests we can control and manipulate our feeling and mood—that we are not simply at the mercy of our circumstances or genetic inclinations. (Other people respond to smiles, too. My friend Carol Kinsey Goman, a leading body language expert, tells me that, if you ever go to court, it has been observed that judges tend to give smilers lighter penalties, a phenomenon called the “smile-leniency effect.”)
So how does this data speak to the entrepreneurial salesman?
Well, for me, just this. I can report that, as the chief rainmaker for my firm Corporate Rain International, I face lots of rejection on many days. That’s stressful. However, even though most of my initial conversations with potential clients are by phone, I often find that smiling and other affects of happiness and prosperity actually do keep my attitude and mien happy. For example, if I’m having a less than salutary week, I will sometimes break my morose feelings by dressing in my best suit and brightest tie for a day, even if my day is only conference calls and desk work where no one can see me. I’ve found such seemingly superficial changes can make for a better day. The wise people of Alchoholics Annonymous have had this piece of intuitive knowledge for many years. They call it “acting as if.”
Selling is innately stressful because it is full of rejection. And any business owner is constantly selling where her activity involves the formal act of selling or not. She embodies the trope of her company. I personally look for little tricks to keep my personal projection prosperous and robust. “Smiling though my heart is breaking” is a useful one.
American patriot, philosopher, and political pamphleteer Thomas Paine said, “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles to the death.” Thanks, Thomas.