Just Listen

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"Wipe that smile off your face!" - the Psychology of Smirking

Smirk in public, rage in private

Show me someone who smirks in public
and I’ll show you someone who rages in private

What do Lloyd Blankfein and John McCain and Hillary Clinton have in common?

 

 

When they’re on the spot and someone is questioning their credibility, they often smirk.

Why do they do that?  Like many driven people, Blankfein, McCain and Clinton all have significant narcissistic features to their personalities (I don’t view any of them as “dyed in the wool,” “through and through” narcissists).  When the narcissistic part of a personality is affronted or insulted, it feels assaulted and wounded.  That is what is referred to as a “narcissistic injury.”  And just as a wounded animal turns its fear into rage to thwart another attack that might prove fatal, a narcissist similarly rages against the offender.

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In private that rage can be verbally vicious and even cross over into physical outbursts (I am told that prior to his recent mellowing Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft was a real “chair thrower” when he got upset and Steve Jobs was not far behind him when he was displeased) and their wrath is something that their entourages fear.

However when these people are exposed to the spotlight of public scrutiny, they know better than to vent that rage overtly.  Instead they  smile, doing their best to distract from how much they are seething underneath.  To anyone watching, that smile is anything but happy.

It is often seen as smug, arrogant and condescending.  It may have some of those qualities, but more often it is an effort to sugar coat and distract the viewer away from the narcissistic rage that is bubbling just below.

As such instead of a smirk being “passive aggressive” (i.e. indirectly hostile) it is in actuality more accurately being “suppressive aggressive” (i.e. trying to keep a lid on hostility).

If you (or someone you know) smirks, when you are feeling affronted or assaulted, something that can help you "wipe that smile off your face" and replace it with a softer, kinder and even loving smile is to stop and just listen to where the other person is truly coming from.  If you do that, you will often discover that they are not trying to condemn you, but are merely trying to deal with their own confusion and fear about something they are looking to you to help them understand or solve. And when they're not, they're usually dealing with someone beating up on them to beat up on you.

Just because you're on the defensive, doesn't mean that anyone is attacking you.

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"Just Listen"

Mark Goulston, MD, is the author of the new bestselling book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

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