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Smile Power: An Open Letter to Tom Peters

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
May 7, 2010

An Open Letter to Tom Peters

Dear Tom:

Thanks again for taking the time to give me an interview last month (Part One and Part Two). It meant the world to me to have an opportunity to speak with someone who has done so much to shape my beliefs about business, sales, and the ability to passionately make a difference.

Sometimes those of us who love and trade in ideas run across ideas that sound wonderful without thinking too much about the execution of those ideas. The idea is appealing, and if it seems to have some kernel of truth to it, we grab it and add a strong dose of hyperbole to make our point.

When I came across this tweet in your Twitter your stream, it struck me as one of those ideas that might be special.

Tom Peters Twitter

I often make judgments about people in about the same short time period as Mr. Ailes suggests (and as it turns out, I am often wrong!). Those of us who carry a bag have very little trouble developing rapport and making friends easily. But that really doesn’t address the first impression or the fact that others are making their impressions as fast as I do.

As I thought about what an impossibly short period of time seven seconds is, I was stumped as to what one could do to ensure they fell into the “great” category of first impressions. So, I tweeted the only thing I could think of that made any sense to me at all.

More Then Hyperbole

Was “Going Mandela” hyperbole? Was “Hire for smile! Put it in FORMAL hiring criteria!” In a word: YES!

I do not naturally smile when I walk into a room. I don’t find it easy to smile, and it isn’t anything that I have ever practiced. But I couldn’t shake the idea, so I decided to try to figure out how I might be able to walk into a room and simply “go Mandela.”

I searched the Internet for pictures of Mandela, who is almost never pictured without his legendary smile. But the Internet has dozens of pictures of a young Mandela, not one of which shows a young, smiling Nelson Mandela. I believe it was a learned behavior, perhaps because it provides such an enormous power to completely disarm others.

Smile Power

What I learned to do to enable me to smile walking into a room is to think to myself a single thought, and it is this: “What the Hell are these people going to think when they look up and see me smiling like this?” Might not work for you, but just the thought of it makes me smile.

So, on a big board room sales call, I coached my team of salespeople that when we walked in, we would do so smiling. One of them said: “You are kidding, right?” I replied that I was very serious, and that the client was going to make an instant impression about us. If we wanted to control the impression, we would smile, walk around the room and personally introduce ourselves, shaking each person’s hand–smiling the whole time.

Okay, so the execution was a little poorer than I would have liked. But the result was immediate and unmistakable; of the ten people in the room, nine of them were smiling back (the hold out did smile when I shook her hand). We were their last presentation of the day, and the room went from bored to engaged immediately.

Anecdotal? Absolutely. But it was enough of a result to encourage me to try again. So, I decided to try to walk into every business meeting smiling. Even the business meetings where a first impression wasn’t necessary, and where I had long, rock solid relationships. Almost without fail, the smile is returned in kind, and there is a perceptible and measurable desire to engage in conversation.

Is it the fact that a smile makes you appear to be happy? More confident? More approachable? More easily engaged? I have no idea. I do know that it is undeniably effective.

On Monday, I was at the grocery store. The poor clerk at the register was struggling to identify the right cigarettes for her customer, and handed her the wrong cigarettes three times (some confusion about lights, ultra-lights, and ultra-light 100’s). I waited patiently, watching both of their moods sour before my eyes. Transaction concluded, the clerk had her head down when I stepped up to make my purchase. When she looked up, she was greeted to me doing my best Mandela (which isn’t all that great!). Within a fraction of a second, I was looking back a smiling grocery store checkout clerk.

Neither of us said a word.

You Can’t Be Serious, Can You? It Can’t Work!

I don’t for one second believe that Nelson Mandela had an easier time developing the power to smile. And for that same second I don’t doubt that it was intended to create a first impression that disarmed and opened people to him and his ideas.

Tom: I don’t know you, but I think I am pretty safe suggesting that you are not a natural born smiler. If I may be so arrogant as to presume to teach the master, may I recommend that you make sure that this is not hyperbole. It belongs in the formal hiring criteria, and it deserves to be trained and practiced.

Try it at home by simply walking into the room where your wife is sitting with a big smile on your face. Try it at the restaurant between Vermont and Boston. Try it and tell me that I am wrong. Absolutely try it at your next business meeting.

Below please find my response to the incredulity in your above tweet (and the small amount incredulity in this post) as to my seriousness. Not as practiced or rehearsed as I would like it to be, I’ll “Go Mandela” first.

I dare you to go second.

Sincerely (and with a big smile),

S. Anthony Iannarino

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Mindset 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on May 7, 2010

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.

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