Monday, May 12, 2008


By now anyone who goes to a meeting knows enough about body language to remain practically immobile throughout. Arms neither defensively folded nor arrogantly behind your head; sitting forward to show you’re engaged but not so far forward as to appear domineering, etc. I remember in the early corporate days of Body Language, everyone you sat down with was either mirroring you or not. It was all a bit obvious and, in some cases, just plain funny to watch groups of people unfolding their arms at the same time or nodding in agreement in unison.

Now a new and altogether more subtle form of body language has been discovered. It seems researchers in Portsmouth, of all places, have found that there are 50 different types of smile. Yes, 50. We’re talking triumphant, bitter, delighted, surprised, suppressed…they’ll be part of your repertoire too. More researchers, this time from California, have also discovered that smiling probably influences our behavior. Yes, I know it seems obvious but they’ve proved it. Smiles influenced the decisions of study participants when shown photos of smiling and neutral faces. Even though the researchers flashed through the smiling photos, these were still the ones that shone through, as was illustrated by the next phase of the study. Offer people a soft drink, and if they had seen the smiling faces they would offer to pay up to triple the asking price.

The relationship between smiling and getting your own way won’t come as news to some people. In the advertising world, clocks are always shown with their hands at 10 minutes to 2. Some say that it is to represent a smile. I often use the smiley face to show my appreciation of great ideas and insights. Still, as the French have it, it’s good to know that something that works so well in practice also works in theory.