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Let’s See Those Pearly Whites!

Guest blogger Bert Troughton shares the science of smiling—and why you and your coworkers should do it right now.


When my colleague Meg Allison gives tips on being a great Adoption Ambassador, she says, “If your face doesn’t hurt at the end of the day from smiling so much, you’re not doing it right.” I love this line, and it sent me off on a foray into the science of smiling.

Good news! You can forget all the time, energy and money you’ve been thinking about investing in customer service training. The single most powerful thing to do to improve customer service is get your team members to smile. So powerful, in fact, that British researchers found that one smile can deliver the same amount of mood-boosting brain stimulation as 2,000 chocolate bars!

Something to note: Not all smiles are created equally. We seem to be innately equipped to discern the difference between genuine smiles, which involve the muscles around the mouth AND the muscles around the eyes, and fake or forced smiles—which only involve the muscles around the mouth. The way we figure this out is that in the blink of an eye (literally), when we see a smile, we test it for authenticity by replicating it. In other words, we’re hard-wired to respond to smiles by mirroring them back. When we do, we can tell if it’s just a polite smile or if it’s the real deal. When it’s the real deal, a cascade of good things happen. We get a release of endorphins (the chemical messengers that make us feel good), we perceive the person smiling at us as not only friendly but also competent, and we feel more inclined to move toward the smiler rather than distance ourselves. 

You can see how this simple activity can unleash some good stuff in your adoption counseling area, right? But don’t stop there. Wouldn’t it be great if staff and volunteers smiled at each other in the corridors and in the break room? How about smiling at the people who are surrendering a pet? There’s some great research on people weathering grief more easily if they can smile (and laugh) a bit—even in their sadness. The ways that smiling could improve things in your organization are almost endless, so c’mon, go wild… Imagine more smiling at board meetings and city council meetings!

And here’s a tip on where to find the genuine smilers—in your community! When I was an Executive Director, anytime I got knock-your-socks-off customer service from a friendly, smiling human at a restaurant or pretty much any place of business, I asked them if they wanted to work or volunteer at the humane society. Seriously! Most of them said no, but we’d always end up having a fun conversation about the shelter, their love of animals, their career path, etc. And, some of them said yes. And a couple of those people worked absolute magic once they joined our team. Adoption Ambassadors carry business cards for the animals they’re promoting. Why not carry a business card that says something like, “Wow, your genuine smile and regard for people make me think you’d love a career helping people and animals. Interested? Please call me!!”

Whether you go out looking for smilers or you get everybody on your existing team a little mirror and get them working on their smiling skills, one thing is clear: Big, genuine
smiles—flashed often—will improve the work environment, improve the tenor between you and your clients and customers and even improve the health and well-being of your team members.

Everybody can do it. And it’s absolutely FREE! There are no downsides. So what are you waiting for? Smile!



Bert Troughton, MSW, is Interim Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services at the ASPCA, where she works with several talented teams: ASPCA Animal Hospital, ASPCA Poison Control, Community Medicine and Humane Alliance. Bert joined the ASPCA in 2003 after 9 years as CEO of Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire and 10 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Past president of both the New Hampshire and New England Federations of Humane Societies, Bert is a guest blogger on human dynamics in animal welfare and the author of the chapter on working with adopters in Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.


Related Links

Blog: “Look ‘Em in the Eye and Smile”
2015-2016 Adoption Ambassadors Campaign Wrap-Up