Myth or Not: A Genuine Smile Makes a Significant Difference

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Stop. If you were about to discard this blog simply because the topic of ‘smiling’ seems too insignificant you may want to reconsider.

I personally have a belief that greeting others with a smile does make a difference – a huge difference – but is my belief grounded in fact, tradition, personal and professional experience, or something else? Is my belief that smiling makes a significant difference just a myth?

Starting with last week’s Thinking Thursdays TIPs we began a multi-week series called Myths Debunked. If you have a myth that is healthcare related, a myth that you would like for us to debunk or confirm, I’d love to hear from you. Just drop me an email at:

To Smile or Not to Smile – Does it Matter?

Is it a myth that offering a smile to someone else makes them feel better and at the same time boosts your own sense of wellbeing?

Read on to learn if smiling really makes a difference, and if so, how you may use this simple, kind gesture to create an environment that uplifts others as well as yourself.

In the article titled, “Five Ways to Make Your Patients Happier”, by Scott Bennett and published by R1 RCM, there are five interpersonal skills listed to make patients happier. (1)

1. Share the Power of a Smile
2. Let the Praise Flow
3. Be a Good Listener
4. Address the Patient by Name
5. Know How to Handle Disputes

Interesting. The number one item? Share a smile.

“Your smile shows patients that you are happy to see them. After all, they are what make your practice thrive. So why not share a smile to make your patients feel welcome and let them know that you appreciate them.” — Scott Bennett

We Can Sense a Smile, Without Seeing a Smile

When I began researching whether smiling really makes a difference, it occurred to me that with COVID-19 nearly everyone is wearing a mask these days, and appropriately so to protect those around us and ourselves from the spread of the virus.

So, if I am wearing a mask, is it true no one will ever know if I’m smiling? Not true.

As part of MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts, we have a learning module specifically designed to help telephone attendants/receptionists embrace and use effective telephone techniques and exhibit good Telephone Etiquette. As part of our Telephone Etiquette training, we teach telephone attendants that patients on the other end of the phone can hear whether or not the telephone attendant is smiling.

“It’s a fact that people can hear a smile through the telephone. When your smile can be heard, chances are you convey the right image…the one your customers expect and appreciate…the one that helps you establish a rapport.” (2)

“Smiling affects how we speak, to the point that listeners can actually identify the type of smile based on sound alone…”, according to a Discovery article. (3)

Knowing we humans can detect a smile, or the lack of a smile, based on tone of voice and sound alone, it seems reasonable that we can ‘see’ right through a PPE safety mask and know if there’s a smile behind the mask, or not.

We Can See Right Through Masks

Check out this article, “Can others recognize your smile behind a mask? Body language expert weighs in. Here are tips for improving social interaction while wearing a face covering.”, published June 20, 2020, by TODAY, and authored by A. Pawlowski.

Back to my original question: If wearing a mask, will anyone even know if I’m smiling?

The answer. Yes! It is absolutely worthwhile to smile while wearing a mask according to body language expert Janine Driver, founder and president of the Body Language Institute in Washington, D.C.

“We’re lucky a lot of information shows up in the eyes and the eyebrows. With true happiness, we see it with the wrinkles on the side of our eyes.” — Janine Driver

“Psychologist Paul Ekman, who studies facial expressions, described a ‘true enjoyment smile’ as showing up in the crow’s feet or laugh lines area of the face, with the eyes narrowing and crinkling. A genuine smile — also known as the Duchenne smile — engages the orbicularis oculi muscle around the eye; a fake smile does not.” (4)

Do Fake Smiles Work?

Here’s another question. If I force a ‘fake smile’ will I get the same, positive results?

During my research I found this article, “The Science Of Smiles, Real And Fake”, published July 1, 2019 by NPR. Nick Coles, a social psychology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, at the time of the publication, led a study with the primary focus of determining if a forced smile changes our mood. In other words, if you’re feeling sad, can you just force your facial muscles into the shape of a smile, hold the fake smile for however long, and then, somehow, the notion is you would begin to feel better, happier, less sad because you forced the smile.

Nick Coles and his team concluded, “the effects were very tiny”. (5)

Knowing a forced smile does not have the same, positive effect as a genuine smile is important.

How we are treated by our boss, and how we treat others if we are the boss makes THE difference. Creating an environment where everyone is treated with respect, dignity, and love increases the likelihood that the smile you see on the faces around you, masks or not, are genuine and real.

“Love Or Fear – The Foundation Of Your Leadership”, by Paul Cortissoz says it this way. (6)

Love or fear is the primary filter that governs our lives as human beings. We do not stop being human when we come to work everyday.

Smile to Connect

In our blog titled, “EXCELLENCE WINS” IN HEALTHCARE – MANAGERS PUSH: LEADERS INSPIRE”, you’ll find the quote below.

We’ve been programmed to seek to achieve in some area so we can look back with pride and say, ‘I did that.’ Along the way, we crave relationships with other human beings. We want to connect, to talk, to be heard, to interact, to gain new ideas, to help another person, and yes, even to love.” — Horst Schulze (7)

As we crave relationships; relationships with patients/customers, relationships with co-workers, relationships with family, relationships with friends, let us seek to connect by first, offering a smile. It’s a great first step to a healthy relationship.

In summary, I offer the following article, “Why Quality Customer Service Always Starts with a Smile”, published by Business-Opportunities. (8) In the article you will find six reasons why offering a smile is important.

1. A smile Is Infectious
2. A smile Makes Us Positive
3. A Smile Helps Us Deal with Problems
4. A Smile Makes a Good Impression
5. A Smile Changes Your Body Language
6. A Smile Establishes a Sense of Trust

Myth: Confirmed. A Genuine Smile Makes a Significant Difference

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates, so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.

Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC.

(1) “Five Ways to Make Your Patients Happier”, by Scott Bennett


(3) * NOTE: The original citation for this quote is no longer active.

(4)“Can others recognize your smile behind a mask? Body language expert weighs in”, as published by TODAY authored by A. Pawlowski

(5) “The Science Of Smiles, Real And Fake”, published July 1, 2019 by NPR, study led by Nick Coles

(6) “Love Or Fear – The Foundation Of Your Leadership“, by Paul Cortissoz

(7) SCHULZE, HORST, 1939 author. | MERRILL, DEAN Title: Excellence Wins: a no-nonsense guide to becoming the best in the world of compromise / Horst Schulze, with Dean Merrill, page 139

(8) “Why Quality Customer Service Always Starts with a Smile”, published by Business-Opportunities

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