A Smile and What It Does

How often do you smile?
                         Seldom ____
                   Sometimes ____
                            Often ____
It seems that there are certain people who never smile. Why is it that these people can't smile? Is it born of a gloomy  outlook on life? Often it's because of a tainted perspective and outlook on life that is brought into work.

We are all too familiar with the surly serving person who waits on us at a restaurant. It seems like we are a bother to them as they project to us a feeling of why are these people here intruding on my time and my restaurant? We have also been greeted with a frown from the cashier at the checkout line--which makes us wonder why we shop there at all.

We have all read that the face of another signals to us the person's disposition and even possibly the person's character. The face reveals to us many things about the other person. If this is true, what does an authentic smile do? A smile conveys warmth, an invitation to engage, and a possible positive attitude. At very least--it's certainly more inviting than a frown.

A frown from a leader signals to us disaster. We have all been in those kinds of meetings. The frown from a leader is usually the precursor to something bad that is about to occur. It tells us that we are about to have our world turned upside down. And we grip for the impact. We are on guard. We automatically become defensive, searching for things that we possibly did or something that went wrong. And this puts us on a heightened state of alert.

But the frown, as we have also learned, can just be a gloomy disposition in the other person. It is not a precursor. It has just become a habit--a very bad habit--and has little meaning in the originator about us. However, it does have its affect. It signals to the organization, don't take risks, don't step out and innovate, don't come up with new ideas, in essence it is the great intimidator and great destroyer of the modern organization that needs exactly those things it impedes.

When you do use a frown--you are signaling to others your displeasure with someone's behavior, attitude, or your feelings. And it can have a detrimental negative ripple affect across the organization. If you don't think people are on the lookout for how you feel, allow me to tell you a quick, but true story.

We had a large project with a large Fortune 500 insurance company. I headed up the office as managing director and I had just finished a meeting our client's CFO. It was a good meeting. But as I was walking from his office across the street to another building that housed our project team, several people were looking out the window and saw me. I must have been deep in thought--because to the people in the building--my team who saw me--it must have appeared that I wasn't happy. They reached the conclusion that the meeting with the CFO must have been a bad one. And it was not long before everyone on the project (some 130 people) "knew" I was not happy and therefore "knew" my meeting had not gone well. According to one of the people who had the courage to tell me this story, I signaled to them that our project was not performing.

Just look at the leaps in assumptions that these people made. Because I was not smiling (which I normally do), they assumed that the meeting with the CFO had not gone well. Which to them meant the client was not happy with the project they were working on (notice how they personalized the interpretation). And some people even thought--according to my confidant--that the project was in jeopardy of being shut down. Notice the chain reaction.

There are times when we are not going to be happy. There are times when a frown is actually appropriate. The lack of a smile on our faces signal our displeasure with an issue that should have been handled better. The lack of a smile may be because of an illness of a friend or family member. But there are times when we are frowning way too much, and you have to ask yourself, do you do this too much, too often or at inappropriate times?

A smile conveys warmth, an invitation to engage, to participate, and positiveness. It deals out dignity and projects value and team-centeredness for the most part. The answer to the question at the beginning of this piece should be "often." If your answer was "sometimes" or "seldom" you have to ask why? Why create a problem when there isn't one? Creating a smile for those who don't smile often takes some getting used to. You have to work on it minute to minute. The smile can lift and convey value to the receiver.

When you greet others with a smile, no matter what is on your mind, you are taking the first step forward in engaging with the person and demonstrating that you consider this person of value. When you smile at the other person even if it's just a passing in the hallway, you are now present with the other person. The smile is a great encourager. It gives the other person courage. It signals to others that they are of value. And it gets people to give it their all.

Of course, you can't fake an authentic smile. When someone tries to fake a smile they appear to be disingenuous, a liar, a person who can't be trusted. A faked smile is like a wolf baring its fangs to ward off predators and signals get ready to be attacked.

Isn't it nicer to be greeted by an authentic warm smile than a cold authentic frown? We know this is true. And if we know it, why don't we take the time and make the effort to do something about it? Our behavior does matter. And while a smile doth not the leader make, it does contribute to the aura of the leader and can distinguish you accordingly.


  1. Take inventory of your daily smiles. How often do you smile versus frown? Ask family members, your trusted colleagues, and friends about your ability to smile. Find out how often according to them that you do smile. Ask if your smile seems real and authentic or does it appear contrived and fake.
  2. Take your smile and combine it with a warm handshake and warm eye contact. This will help enliven your smile and convey a feeling of trust, encouragement, and welcoming. It will extinguish the possible signal of being fake that sometimes comes from a quick smile.

A Thermostat Reading-Signals We Send

Question: Do your clients and staff feel comfortable or uncomfortable when they are with you?

Answer: Usually ____
                 Often ____
              Seldom ____

Does your attitude, voice, and mannerisms exude warmth? Or do they exude an ice-like feeling to others?

A key word that is hard to define--one that telegraphs to others that you are an open, willing to hear the other type of person--is the word "participation." You may think that the word participation isn't that hard to define in the dictionary sense. But it truly is a difficult definition when you try to convey the meaning and the feeling you get when you are "allowed into" or "brought into" a conversation, an exchange of ideas, or asked for an opinion.

The word participation signals to others that they are of value. They are significant, at least to us. The feeling of significance or the lack of the feeling of significance can make all the difference to a child and an adult. It can mean the difference between someone trying 110% or just giving the job or the task 50%--or just enough to get by.

A tiny minute detail, that you signal to others, is how you handle a client or a colleague, especially when they visit your offices. When someone walks into your office, do you stand up? Do you come around from behind your desk and shake their hand? Do you look them straight in the eye and make them feel glad they know you? Do you try to convey your feeling that you believe them to be important? These are signs of your participation in their world. And your acts of participating, signals to the other person they are important.

Stop a minute and think about someone you visited recently. It can be when you went to another office, or when you visited headquarters, or were out in the field. Think about an executive or client who sat at their desk, barely looked up, hardly said a word, and was colder than a dead cadaver (I know--a dead cadaver is doubly dead--and a live cadaver is impossible except if the other is a zombie).  Think about how that made you feel. Did you feel welcome? Did you feel--valued? Of course not. In fact, it may have shifted your entire mood.

Sure, I get it--you're not supposed to have your mood changed because of someone else; because you are not what the other person thinks. But you have to admit--if we are all being honest--that the difference between one person getting up and coming out from around their desk to greet you and the person who barely looks up to see you, who doesn't make the effort and continues to sit and stare at the email on their laptop--is the difference between warm sunshine and a dismal cold dank day.

So, if that's the case, what do you exude? What is your thermostat reading? Sure, everyone should be in charge of their own internal thermostat--but that outside pressure does affect people no matter how much Zen-lie detachment you practice. This is important--especially to those of you who are in management positions or those of you who want to be leaders--you telegraph to others how they should feel. And I clients and colleagues--all--want to feel that you appreciate them.

Naturally, there are times when you have work that needs to be done, and you can't be interrupted. And sure, there are times when you aren't "up." On these occasions, close the door or go home or g to the nearest coffee shop so you won't be interrupted, but more importantly, so you won't spread the contagion of negativity around your office and hurt your reputation.

Recognize that this one signal can make a marked difference in how others feel when they leave your office or your orbit. Ask a trusted colleague, friend or family member, does your orbit have a gravitational pull that others look forward to being in? Or does your orbit have a repelling effect--leaving others to make a left turn to the restrooms as they see you coming down the hall? Ask people, do they look forward to your conference calls or do they dread them?

We can create strong feelings in others. We can pull them into our orbit or we can repel them.


  1. Shifting out of your funk, into a positive, uplifting attitude can make all the difference in the world with your clients and colleagues. It takes mental agility to recognize that we send signals and that it is far better to send positive signals than it is to send negative signals. Acknowledge that you regularly value people or devalue people with the warmth or coldness you send.
  2. Review how you behave. Do you see how you can be sending the wrong impression? Make it a point to be warm, friendly, and inviting. Acknowledge your pessimism, aloof attitude and cold actions can be an initiative-killer and an attitude drainer for your staff, colleagues and clients. Resolve to stop, look up, and think about what you want to convey the next time you meet with a client or colleague. Do you want them to say to themselves, I want to meet with him or her again? Or do you want them to say, I am glad that meeting is over, and I am going to avoid meeting with him in the future? Decide now to get into the habit of looking at the signals you are sending and send a signal that conveys warmth.

Saying, "That's a really good question" is not a good statement to make. Only sycophants say things like this.

I am going to attempt to be funny. I say this in advance because I don't mean to sound sarcastic or mean.

I am sitting in this leadership class--it's about how we can be more articulate. An interesting topic. However, I am always a little concerned when the facilitator doesn't have the skills himself or herself when conducting a class on an important topic.  And I more concerned when the person (the facilitator or instructor) has not been in similar situations nor used the material he or she is teaching.

Anyway, here we are in this class. The class is set up in a U-shape. You know the kind, where the facilitator is walking around in the center, and the rest of goofs are sitting at tables set up in a squared off U. To be fair, and I am sure this is the situation in most organizations today, all of us have been in classes or facilitated discussions that go about nowhere. And these classes are not helped by the fact that we, as participants, are pretty skilled, intelligent, and strong willed people.

The class I am referring to heads in the direction about conference calls and presenting to other high-level execs our business plans and how to gain their agreement, as well as how to look and appear that we are on-the-ball. We are discussing how to gain agreement on the conference call, especially where there may be 10 to 20 people on the call. (Now don't get me started by asking 'What kind of organization allows 10 to 20 people on a con call? That's an issue for another time).

We as a class are discussing presenting a piece of work and walking these other high-level, strong-willed people through a Powerpoint deck. If you are in business, you know what happens. People start asking you questions. And these questions can become quite a bit uncontrolled--too many and you are like a tail on a dog--going back and forth, from one question to another. Sooner or later you are whipsawed and you can never win when you are peppered with a dozen questions, one right after another.

A person in the class asks the facilitator the question, "You know, the people we are presenting to, start jumping ahead on the call, before we finish our presentation and they begin to ask questions. It's hard to think and gain control and  give them a good answer." In other words, this person is saying, she responds to these questions quickly, wanting to appear sharp and in command, but there are sometimes she needs a second to think. However, if she waits too long to think, the feedback is we look unsure. It's a fair question. It's also an honest and candid question. In fact, this is probably the root reason behind the class.

The facilitator says, "Try this. The next time someone asks you a question, say, 'That's a really good question . . .' and this will allow you time to pause, regroup and think about the answer."

Of course, I am a smart-ass, and I am sitting in this class. I know about these questions. You have to gain control and remain in control without appearing to be controlling and not "open to new ideas." Because someone asks a question, not answering it or deflecting it to later can appear to make you appear controlling or not appreciative of the person asking the question.

So I say something under my breath about the try this "That's a really good question" idea. What I say is, "Until you say 'That's really a good question,' for the sixteenth time--you run the risk of looking to try to appease everyone saying that they all have really good questions. So somewhere in your mind you realize you've said 'That's a really good question' 16-times and your brain says switch it up so you don't sound redundant.

To switch it up you say the next best thing, you say, "That's a really great question."

Now you've moved from good to great--from that's a good question to that's a really great question. And all those other people to whom you told that was a good question is now pissed off because you've told this latest person that he has a really great question. Now, you've disgraced all the other questions with one backhanded insult--unintentionally."

Now, I am realizing, that this is not exactly as under my breath as I thought it was. Two people to my right are laughing pretty hard. This other person to my left has tears in her eyes she's laughing so hard. What I said must have resonated with these people.

The facilitator is looking at me as she must have heard this too. Recognizing I am guilty I say, "Sorry about that."

Of course, as sorry as I was about disrupting the class, I am not sorry for having this thought that escaped my lips.

The facilitator's advice is bad advice. Never say. "That's a good question." It sounds wimpy, weak, and makes you look like a sycophant. Other than that, it's perfect.

Prepare in advance. Think through the questions that can be asked or should be asked and prepare a short sentence hitting the question straight on. Say, "Yes. I considered that. Let me tell you what I considered as the way to address that." Or say, "I too am concerned about that issue you are bringing up. I don't have a great answer for it--although I have placed a lot of thought around it. Here's my thinking." And then tell the person your strategy.

You can also take another approach if you don't have a good answer by saying you don't have a good answer to something. I am not sure you will agree with me on this--but saying you have thought about the issue, but don't have a good solution is okay if you do not have a solution. Sometimes 'I don't know' is the right answer, because it is the only answer. If someone says,"What will happen if the Mongolian Wall on the eastern front grows too much moss over the next three years?" the only answer is: 'I don't know.' And saying, "But I will find out" is as stupid as saying, "That's a really good question." Just say, "I don't know." Without saying, "Who gives a crap?"

There are never great solutions to every potential issue. Now, don't make that last statement. People who are in business know there are never always solutions to every potential problem. It's when someone tries to appear that they have all the answers, is when they look weak. It's because they appear that they are trying way too hard not to look bad rather than come up with the best strategies to the most likely scenarios.

Saying, "I don't have the exact answer to this--but I am considering three options. Here they are . . . " tells people you are thinking. They like the fact that you are thinking things through. The people higher up or the people on the client's executive team want to know that they are dealing with a strategist--someone who plays down-the-board and tries to see around corners. They all know no one actually can see around the corner. What they want is someone who is ready for the crap that comes out of the blue or what the competition may do and that you have at least the semblance of a game plan in case these events occur.

Saying, "That's a good question" is a suck up, sycophant statement that leads to nowheresville. Be prepared. Place yourself in the shoes of the executives. Think about what they need to know. Give them the feeling, the sense, that you have thought things through from their perspective. Saying things like, "That's a really good question" makes you questionable, and in fact encourages more questions. Saying "I thought this issue through and these other two issues as well" makes the people on the call say to themselves, "Jeez, this guy (or lady) has his act together. I better rethink about asking my question."

The Person Who Talks Too Much on Conference Calls

Be Quiet--Don't Say Anything
How many times have we all been on a conference call and there is someone who continues to talk about something they know nothing about? This becomes worse when we have those weekly, regular calls, when that someone who continues to annoy us who speaks too much and still says nothing.

These people are annoying to the rest of us. Those of us who are more enlightened. We all have these people who aren't as enlightened as we are, on one of our calls regular calls. To these people we want to say, "Please be quiet, don't say anything." Or worse, we want to scream, "Shut the heck up!"

Maybe you are one of "those people." Stop and think about that for a minute. What if you are? Wouldn't that be horrendous? "But I am not like her!" you might scream. "I can't be one of 'those people.' I am smart, likable, and I never talk too much. I say things that are pertinent, relevant and to the point." Do you now?

A Friend's Statement that Made Us All Look Inward
I have a friend who once said, "We are all someone else's asshole."

A few of use were griping about people. We were talking about "those people" who were jerks. We probably were going too far and then he made that statement, "We are all someone else's asshole." Ouch. This shut down the whining. We all became silent, pondering the idea that maybe we were.

Now you should think about it. We tend to see the problem as "out there." What if the problem is "in here?" My friend's comment translates to: while we think so and so is an asshole, there is someone else out there who believes the same about us.

The point here is for you and to your teammates, we can all improve.

Improvement Points--What Can You Do?
The next time you are on a conference call, instead of blurting something out, take out a notebook (I hope you have a notebook), write what you are about to say down on paper. Look at it. Does it make sense? Before blurting out and blabbering to fill the air with words, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this relevant? In other words, does this add to the discussion? Is what I have written down relevant to what is being discussed? Is this on topic? (And don't worry about the conversation changing to something else before you have had a chance to weigh in. You can come back to it later if it truly important or perhaps better, let it go.)
  2. Is this my area of expertise? Or are there others on the call who have much more expertise on this topic than I do? (By the way, for those of you who are shy or are too concerned that your opinion isn't important, you have the opposite problem, so don't use this point as your excuse to hide behind.)
  3. Do I truly understand the parameters of the topic? Was there a previous call that this issue came up on and I am just catching up--so I don't have entire story? Do I have all the facts, the entire story, do I understand what the objective is and who actually owns the issue?
  4. Does what I am about to say sound like advice? Am I coming across as condescending? Or worse, arrogant? 
  5. Am I about to say something obvious? Am I about to say something that someone else already said? Am I about to say something only with more words that everyone else has already stated?
  6. Sure, you are a person of worth, a person of value. But are you attempting to prove this here by saying something so that you can "feel alright"--so that you can feel superior--or feel important? 
  7. Do I understand that the more I say about everything, every single time, that it actually dilutes what I say when I do have something important to say about something I do know a lot about?
  8. If I do need to make a point--can I make it and shut up? Without feeling compelled to drone on and on and explain every aspect of what I mean?
  9. Do I understand the admonition: Better to be thought the fool, than to open my mouth and remove all doubt?
  10. Is it better for me to listen and determine who gets listened to and why?
  11. Do I use fillers to keep people from running over me or use fillers to block out others such as "umm" or "ahhhh" or "look" and saying "Does that make sense?" and going on not really wanting to hear if that does make sense.
When you become "more discerning" about what you say and how often you say something--you actually become someone who gets listened to more often. This is the opposite of what most people do. We need to follow the admonition "The less said the better." I am sure you heard that before.

Take No Action

  1. On the next con call, bring a notebook. Take notes. Write down what you want to say before the con call starts. Write down what you want to say during the call too.
  2. On the next con call make it a point to say nothing. Try retraining your brain that you do not need to say anything in order to be relevant, to be important, to be a person of worth and value. Know that you already are a person of worth and you already are relevant and you are continuing to work to stay that way.
  3. If on the next call you are asked for your opinion, as hard as this may be, say, "I can't say anything that hasn't already been said." And then shut up. Or say this, "I can't say anything that isn't a variation of what Sue and Robert stated." And then shut up.
  4. If someone asks you if you agree and you do agree, say, "I agree." And then shut up. If you don't agree, say, "I don't have the same opinion. But perhaps I don't have all the facts." And then shut up. Wait to be asked for your opinion. When you are asked for your opinion, state it and state why you have it. One sentence for your opinion, and one sentence as to why you have it. And then shut up. Use periods--and then use the silence. Silence often is more powerful than words.
  5. Use your words sparingly. Become a person like the French philosopher Henri Bergson advised, "Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought."

An Approach to Life and Success---Ari Kiev Wisdom

I read a lot of books--mostly on success--and how to be a success. I have been reading success literature for the past, well, I'd say, 25 years. Has it been that long? Yes it has.

I've read books by great authors who turned my life around. In every instance the good reads started with how to think. These books were mostly about, in essence, how to think more positively. But the really good books explained how the brain, or mind if you prefer, works.

Paying Homage to Ari Kiev
In this post I want to pay homage to the late Ari Kiev. Dr. Kiev (he was a true doctor, getting his MD and then studying psychology) practiced in NYC. As we all know, NYC is a pretty tough, competitive environment for anyone.

How tough? I'm reminded of the Robbin Williams joke: "Want to hear a New York echo?" he would ask. He'd imitate an Alps Yodeler in the valleys of skyscrapers, "Hellloooo!!!!" Then he'd wait for the echo: "F@%k yooouuu!!!"

A tough place? Yeah, I'd say so.

Kiev opened his practice to business people who were experiencing stress in their jobs and who were ultimately lost as to how to "be" and still strive for success. By the way, this is my interpretation not his--especially the "be" part. This man was a genius. He was asked later to coach Olympic athletes and later started working with Wall Street professionals coaching them on how to overcome their fears, their childhood learned limitations, and develop a new approach to work and being successful. If you get a chance read some of his earlier works they are a cross between Zen, being successful, learning how to live in the now, planning a life, and being happy.

It's the Striving that is Important
In one of his last books before he passed away, Hedge Fund Masters, he provides a little anecdote--a story of sorts. The story has a point. The point is something we have all heard at one point in our lives. It's refreshing to hear this, at least to me, because it tells me it's okay to do something--to strive for something. Instinctively you and I know this (strive for something) as a truth. But rarely do we have someone, who is an expert in the field, to say "it's okay" to do something--that is take a yes or no stand in today's world. The real power comes into play when I hear this part--which I never heard before: strive for the goal, but it's not the achieving it that is truly important. The importance is to set a goal and then develop a strategy aiming at the success of achieving the goal.

Developing a success strategy begins with taking a stand. Here he is, from chapter three "Planning a Strategy" in his own words (Hedge Fund Masters Ari Kiev pg. 71):

"Let me tell you an inspiring sports story to off my thoughts on strategy. A few years ago, I was consulted by Gary, the coach of a promising young athlete. Gary wasn't sure whether the youngster, a figure skater, should go all out for the gold medal in an upcoming competition or should hold back and plan to return to win another time. 'Go for the gold,' I urged him. 'There is no substitute for total commitment to the best possible outcome.'

"I'm not an expert in figure skating, but what I was saying to Gary was to make the gold medal the vision, not to plan for a half-hearted effort to protect his skater from the chance of failure. Once he did that, he needed to devise a step-by-step strategy to make it happen."

What's Your Vision? Your Goal?
How about you? Do you have a vision for your future? What is it? What does it look like in detail? How do you know you have achieved a goal you have set for yourself? Is there an "end result"-- a figure? a number? an award? something tangible? Is it a new way of living?

Now I am not saying that you that you should define yourself as the award or end-result? But why not set a goal? Something to shoot for. Why not aim your life and daily actions toward?

What Actions Are You Taking Each Day?
Now here's the thing that you don't hear too often. It's not whether you achieve the goal. It's how much effort and energy you put into striving to achieve the goal. It's the daily routine you create, the discipline of doing the things necessary to achieve the goal that is more important. It is, as Ari Kiev says in one of his books, the daily efforts that are important. The pain staking preparation and daily planning and the actions--the actions--the little things that add up over the course of time, that really help you in becoming better at what you do, who you are striving to become, that are really the focus and the outcome, that matter.

This is advice is against the grain for most of the success literature that I have read. I thought the success was achieving the goal. But no. The success is in becoming the person who can achieve the goal. And the becoming comes from the daily rigor and efforts that seem like we are crawling along the highway while others are cruising by at 70 miles per hour.

Focus On Each Step In Front of You
Kiev says somewhere in one of his books about success and creating a successful life comparing it to climbing a mountain. You don't keep your eyes focused on the mountain top or the pinnacle. Sure you are aiming to get there. Your focus needs to be on each step you take. Where you are planting your foot, and placing one foot in front of the other along the journey--and occasionally--glancing up to look at the peak to make sure you are still heading in the direction you need to go.

To me, I was focused on the mountain top, for way to long. It may explain some of my falls. It may also explain why I never even started in some cases, as the climb seemed way too ambitious. In other cases, where I reached the summit, I can recall the painstaking arduous tasks of some of the most minor things I had to do--and there seemed so many of them--yet fortunately--I enjoyed the reward of the tasks in front of me. And there, in that last sentence, may be another lesson.

Good luck.


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