Norton: ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours’ (column)
So lately I have been testing a theory, and I have to tell you it has been so much fun. I have written about this quote before: I have been familiar with it for more than two decades, and I have read it hundreds of times, and I wanted to finally test the concept and see if it really did work.
“If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” — Zig Ziglar
Seems simple enough, right? We have all probably experienced this effect in one way or another. Someone catches our eye or attention and we smile, they smile back. Or someone smiles at us, and most times we smile back ourselves — probably basic human nature.
Now, we have all probably experienced the other side of that, too, meaning we offer a smile and get greeted with a scowl. Or someone smiles at us and we have no idea who they are, but they must want something from us, so we duck for cover, head down, and try not to make eye contact, let alone smile.
So I had this bright idea that I would actually test this theory over a period of time and in different locations. I happened to be vacationing in Hawaii and each morning would go for a power walk, a run or a casual, less intense walk. And yes, it was Hawaii so most people should be happy or smiling anyway. However, you would be surprised at how many people just didn’t appear happy at all and a smile was the furthest thing from their face.
As I walked or ran, I started to smile. And not just smile, an over-exaggerated smile, kind of like eating a banana sideways. I made eye contact with people from 20 yards away coming in the opposite direction. And whether they were smiling at the time or not, by the time we were side by side, more than 90 percent of the people smiled back and even gave me a warm “good morning” or “aloha.” Five percent of the people never made eye contact, and about 5 percent made eye contact but didn’t smile back.
I will take 90 percent as a win.
I tested the theory in the stores I have gone to, as well — the grocery store, the hardware store, walking down Main Street — and the results were exactly the same. Now maybe, you could argue that my ridiculously over-exaggerated smile caught people’s attention. And maybe their smile back was just the beginning of a snicker or laugh, but it was still a smile. Not only did people smile, they engaged in conversations, asked questions as if I worked at the store and wished me a good day or merry Christmas. Again, 90 percent success rate.
My final test came this weekend, the weekend before Christmas. The venue I chose was the mall. Yikes. I tried to smile while finding a parking spot, and as I came close to seeing one open up, a faster car outmaneuvered me, with a driver who wasn’t smiling, but rather sneering in victory. After finally getting lucky and finding a pretty sweet spot, I entered the lion’s den. My attitude was good, my confidence high, and my resolve to smile and be positive was unwavering.
The bigger I smiled, the more people turned away. It was more like 10 percent of the people smiled in return and 90 percent of the people kept their head down and blazed through the mall with purpose, no time for that smiling nonsense.
Like everyone else, I did have a purpose for being at the mall. There was a gift I needed to pick up. Still smiling and feeling good, maybe not as good as I felt on vacation, but my attitude and resolve were strong. And as I approached the counter to pay, there were three women working the registers. I greeted them with my ridiculously over-exaggerated smile and a hearty merry Christmas, and they stood looking at me for a moment like a deer caught in headlights.
For a split second, I thought that maybe I had overdone it just a bit. And then, they all looked at one another, turned back to me, smiled, and said, “Thank you.” They thanked me because they said almost everyone that had been in the store so far that day had been rude, and they were not feeling the Christmas love or appreciated at all. So I shared my little testing of this Zig Ziglar theory, and they returned my smile and shared with me that no matter who else came in, they would smile back, even a ridiculous over-exaggerated smile filled with Christmas cheer. A little win but a huge victory.
It’s almost the new year. We can go into the new year with a frown and avoid making eye contact with others, or when we see someone without a smile, we can make a commitment for the new year to give them one of ours. I would love to hear your smiling story at firstname.lastname@example.org. And when we can help just one other person to smile, it really will be a better-than-good week and an amazing New Year.
Michael Norton is a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.