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Why Don't They Smile?

Touch another life with kindness....

The other day I disappointed myself.

I was a participant at a self-awareness workshop and I happened to be sitting across from Emily - a woman who gave off a stern, unfriendly demeanor.

Emily had a frown on her face and seemed unusually protective of her workshop materials – drawing them close to her and putting them below the table where no one could see them (this behavior struck me as unusual because everyone else seemed to display their materials on their desks and greet others with a cautious kind of self-aware hello). She was well-dressed and confident but was not someone with whom I felt safe to “explore self.” From what I could observe, she seemed confident in her decision not to interact with others.

As I sat there, I was disappointed in my gut reaction. I know that it was a natural response, but having worked so closely with people on relationships and communication, I knew immediately that I needed to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I want to acknowledge that giving another person the benefit of the doubt can be challenging. When it comes to relationships, we tend to accumulate bodies of evidence that are waiting to be contradicted – if we allow them to be.

If you are like most people you have someone like Emily at work, in your neighborhood, at church or somewhere else. Have you ever met someone that you thought was unfriendly? Perhaps you have accumulated “evidence” that suggests the other person is “not open,” or that they simply, for some unknown reason, “don’t like you” (one of the most difficult but natural assumptions we can make).

It is important to recognize that our assumptions about other people may be wrong. I was.

Here is what I learned from Emily:

  • Be gentle in your assessment of others. Everyone has a story. Sometimes the story makes others present themselves with a frown – when what they are really wanting is to smile from the inside.They are a test. Approach them with kindness. Approach them with an open spirit and with the hope that our kindness will make them feel safe to smile. Create a shift – you have the power.

Enjoy this experiment:

  1. Think of someone who, in the past, has seemed unfriendly.

  2. Keep an open mind and decide to approach the other person with a “fresh start” mentality.

  3. Instead of avoiding the person, seek them out.

  4. Say hello and greet them with a genuine smile.

  5. Do something else unexpected - ask them how they are and then take the time to listen to what they have to say.

  6. Repeat at every opportunity.

  7. Give it a few weeks and assess the results.

It is possible that your new body of evidence will reinforce the original assumption, but there is a greater likelihood that your new approach will make the other person feel valued and appreciated. They certainly will think differently about you and you will have made the world a little brighter with your effort.

I decided to keep an open mind about Emily. I was surprised when she asked to be my partner that day – and as I got to know her better, I realized how easy it is to make assumptions. I am so glad that she taught me this lesson and I can’t wait to see her again. She has a beautiful smile!

You have the power to shift any relationship beginning today. Create a new energy with someone who needs to smile.

Enjoy the experiment and let it bring joy.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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