No Smiling in Business


While preparing for a workshop on Emotional Intelligence with a group of managers I noticed a common pattern. Many of the people have much lower “Emotional Expression” scores than “Emotional Self-Awareness” scores on their Emotional Intelligence test. What this means is they have good self-awareness of how they are feeling inside, they just aren’t sharing those feelings with others when they need to. They are not showing their emotions.

Why do so many managers come across like the legendary stone-faced Vikings Coach, Bud Grant? Is it the Minnesota Scandinavian culture? I don’t think so, although it could account for some of it. I think this tendency for so many not to show their emotions is learned. Think about your family of origin and how your parents and siblings showed emotions. We acquire beliefs early on about expressing our feelings. The figure below shows Tom Hanks telling one of his players, (Madonna) not to cry during a baseball game in the movie, “A League of Their Own.”



“There’s no crying in baseball”  

Sometimes the environment shapes this belief about emotions. When I was at Infantry Officer Candidate School, I quickly learned not to smile at my Tac Officer. You can only imagine what happened to those who did. So, even though I am basically a funny guy, I quickly learned to be more serious and not show any emotions. And, I believe something like this has happened to a lot of people and, as a result, they go through life with a mask on guarding their feelings. 

Let me tell you a little story. When I first came to Minnesota, I worked with a larger consulting firm and spent a day with a CEO-client and a senior psychologist consultant reviewing the CEO’s senior leaders. Driving my ‘boss’ back to the airport he gave me some feedback, “Jim, you smile too much … you were smiling too much during our meeting.” The next day, the CEO-client called my bosses’ office and told him he wanted to work with me on the talent review process in the future.


Why is it important to show others how you are feeling? That’s one of the secrets to connecting with others, to be authentic and real. Do you want to be approachable or do you want to be inscrutable, and maybe even feared? Let people know what you think not only by what you say, but also by how you show it emotionally. You gain power and influence when you do this.