Different kinds of smiles can indicate an employee’s true motivation, according to research from Marketing Prof. Patti Williams.

Do you know how your employees really feel about their job? New research shows that an employee’s smile could be a reliable indicator. 

Ira A. Lipman Associate Professor of Marketing Patti Williams sat down with Wharton Business Daily host Dan Loney to discuss a new research paper she co-authored, which investigates how non-verbal cues can be used to improve employee performance. 

Interview Highlights

1. There’s a visible difference between fake and genuine smiles.

“A ‘Duchenne smile’ is one where not only do the corners of your mouth come up, but your cheeks get raised. When your cheeks get raised, you get the little crinkle in the corners of your eyes. It’s often called ‘smizing,’ or smiling with your eyes. (…) That’s the smile we find that people use to infer real motivation, particularly in a scenario where that motivation might otherwise be ambiguous.”

2. Genuine smiles are harder to fake…

“I can tell you in my words how much I care about doing something and that might only be because I know I’m supposed to say it in the moment. (…) There’s more leakage of the truth in a facial expression than there might be in words. We think it’s a much more reliable indicator. They used to say that you couldn’t fake a Duchenne smile. (…) It turns out that some people are pretty good at faking it, but they’re not necessarily good at faking it in a situation where they’re sort of cognitively busy — where they’re talking, moving, or trying to read someone else’s facial expressions, etc.”

3. …and can benefit relationship-building.

“One of the things we look at in our paper (is) the degree to which people infer that a salesperson actually is a good salesperson. What we find is that a salesperson whose photo showed them exhibiting a Duchenne smile is seen as more trustworthy and likely to provide better service. There’s also some research suggesting that when individuals share in this kind of a Duchenne smile — if I exhibit one and you exhibit one immediately — there’s kind of a social bond formed between us. In a world where everybody’s trying to build interpersonal connections, whether that’s to help teams perform better in the workplace or to help customers feel that they can trust a set of employees or a set of service representatives, that kind of stuff is really important.”

4. Employers can gauge smiles to help their employees perform better.

“We (look at it) from two sides. How do people perceive others who are doing these sorts of Duchenne smiles? And do the actors themselves also understand that they will be perceived better when they exhibit a Duchenne smile? I think (that’s) really important for businesses to understand.

If you’re working in a sales environment, you want to have people who really care about being there — who really are there not just for their paycheck but because they really love their work. Ideally, that means setting up a workplace that they really do love, so that they’re going to exhibit those kinds of smiles frequently when they’re interacting with customers. But the other side is you’ll also want to train those actors to really think about how they’re managing their facial expressions as much as possible. You want to give them this intuition.”

Gloria Yuen

Posted: March 16, 2020

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