Facial expressions are the most important communications tool we have.
That’s why, in old-time cowboy movie culture, “Smile when you say that, Pardner!” is such a chilling threat: It warns your listener that he’d better put the right expression on his face! Even though, apparently, no one ever said this in a movie, the iconic phrase is right up there with Dirty Harry‘s “Make my day!”
Well, those old cowboys knew what they were talking about. Speaker coaches (along with the socially skilled, and con artists) have long realized that, if you’re trying to connect with somebody, smiling is more important than anything you actually say. (In her audio course on Fearless Conversation, the wonderful Leil Lowndes suggests a “flooding” smile that begins with your eyes and only gradually reaches your mouth.)
If the eyes are windows to the soul (another quote), smiling is the pathway to relationship. Smiling doesn’t just warm the other person’s attitude toward you — the act of smiling also, amazingly, warms your attitude toward them.
It turns out that your smile is a big feedback loop that helps connect you to others, and establishes mutual empathy.
Botox Kills the Connection
So now, here comes the New York Times, to report on a study which found that “people who have had Botox injections are physically unable to mimic emotions of others.”
This is critically important for communications, because — as with a smile — mimicking other people’s facial expressions is part of establishing empathy. As the article puts it, “This failure to mirror the faces of those they are watching or talking to robs [people who use botox] of the ability to understand what [other] people are feeling…”
What Should a Communicator Do?
Well, first, pass on the botox. (If you’re trying to look younger, there’s still hair dye and exercise!)
Second, make sure that you smile (just a little) when you’re talking to people. As I told the participants of a communications workshop I recently conducted for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the less actual warmth you feel toward your audience, the more important it is that you smile, if you want to have a prayer of being listened to.
This is even more true when you’re speaking to a group of people. Have you ever sat in the audience while a presenter was saying, “It’s a pleasure to be here,” but looking like what they really meant was either, “I just had botox,” or “I’d rather be having a root canal”?
Trust me, you don’t want to look like that!