David Givens

David B. Givens Ph.D.

Your Body at Work

When You Smile on the Job

David Givens discusses the workplace smile.

Posted Jul 24, 2010

A smile may have many meanings in the office. For one who's attracted to you, your own smile's come-hither message can say, "I'm attracted to you, too." In countries like Italy, Mexico, and Nigeria, a woman who smiles at a man is seen as giving an open invitation to approach. In overseas assignments, American business women should be wary of the unintended effects of gratuitous grinning.

In the late 1990s, a hybrid grin known as the "supermarket mandatory smile" originated in the United States. Safeway Stores, the second largest supermarket chain in the U.S., instructed its employees to smile and greet customers with direct eye contact. In 1998 an article in USA Today--"Safeway's Mandatory Smiles Pose Danger, Workers Say"--reported that twelve female employees had filed grievances over the chain's smile-and-eye-contact policy, after numerous male customers reportedly propositioned them for dates. Commenting on the grievances, a Safeway official said, "We don't see it [the males' sexual overtures] as a direct result of our initiative."

Soon after, however, Safeway rescinded its mandatory smile-policy initiative. In the workplace, women should always be aware that an innocent, friendly smile can trigger unwanted attention from attracted male colleagues. Adding a coy head-tilt or lifting your shoulders submissively as you smile will make the attraction even stronger.

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