Your Eyes Will Share The Smile Behind Your Mask

“Smile, You’re On Stage”

This statement is scribed on signs that freckle the backroads and byways of Central Florida, a region that pre-pandemic boasted the highest volume of visitors among popular destinations in the United States.

They remind thousands of hospitality professionals traveling to and from their venues that the pursuit of service excellence requires a commitment beyond their scheduled shift. Reference to a smile, the universal symbol of kindness, a silent but joyful signature of a traditional First Impression, is purposeful and direct.

By itself a simple facial expression, the depth of emotion expressed through a warm, genuine smile is not generated via one ginormous “On-Off” switch flipped the moment you clock in for work. Instead, it represents an overall state-of-mind, in which a separation between On-Stage and Backstage does not exist.   

With the current state of global precaution mandating masks and facial coverings, some feel the absence of a visible smile has diminished our ability to create a memorable First Impression.

I see the situation from a different perspective.

Expressing a Conscious Confidence

We’ll begin with a visit to the Tall Tim Talks Glossary:

First impression (first  im ∙ press ∙ shun)

Practical form of expression; the ability to connect with a cumulative group of emotions that originate from within, then work outward in the form of gestures that together portray a Conscious Confidence.  

Basically, it wouldn’t matter if those “Smile” signs were two or two hundred miles from our venue . . . our journey to Conscious Confidence begins within the heart.

Feelings and emotions that generate awareness – such as love, passion, compassion, pride, caring, esteem, patience – are developed organically over time, and become the very essence of who we are, and why we do what we do.

Consciously connecting with an emotional state, then expressing those feelings through gestures and words, is where our true talent resides. Confidence pulls through in our eye contact, governs our posture, and motivates an adherence to standards that influence our audience, our guests, and each other.

By removing the outward influence of a smile, the pandemic, in all its chaotic glory, will strengthen other methods of expression. Individuals can begin to utilize gestures and words at levels they may have not considered PM (Pre-Mask) as everyone defines, then refines, their own Personal Blend of Conscious Confidence.

Which will continue to include smiling, since wearing a mask has not medically extracted this natural and instinctive reflex to feelings of happiness and joy. Although . . . I did feel like I could use some extra lip balm and a breath mint after catching up with a friend last week. We laughed so hard our eyes were watering.

Speaking of eyes . . . we will begin with those, and work through a few suggestions to help build your Conscious Confidence in today’s unique environment:  

Windows to the Soul

Is smiling a Service Skill?

I pose this question during Service Culture Workshops to establish that while everyone can smile, a warm, genuine smile requires a subliminal connection to a higher purpose. My presentation includes the photo of a service professional with a brilliant, beautiful smile. Even in its one-dimensional form, I can sense a depth of emotion generating from her heart.

When everyone has agreed that yes, smiling is a service skill, I drive learning retention by physically covering the person’s smile on the monitor with my hand.

“Can you still tell she’s smiling?” I ask.

Yes, through her eyes” is the responding chorus. Followed by cheeks, wrinkles around her eyes, scrunched up nose, eyebrows, her forehead . . . listen, if we begin with eyes, everyone gets full credit.

What stands is a reminder of how much we express through our eyes. A non-verbal gesture in context, your eyes communicate raw feeling and emotion. As the windows to your soul, they are not subject to interpretation or critiqued for sincerity. They cannot help but tell it like it is.

I have heard “Fake smile” . . . have you ever heard someone described as having “Fake eye contact”?

Eye contact has always been, and will continue to be, the driving force behind a great in-person First Impression. Service professionals may have been able to get by with a great smile, at times overlooking the value in establishing, then maintaining eye contact with their guest.

That is no longer the case.

Don’t Keep Your Hands to Yourself

My cultural heritage is Italian, Polish, and Irish . . . I use my hands so much when I talk, from a distance it can look like I’m in a fistfight with myself.

Pandemic or not, standard rules for hand gestures still apply: keep them at your core or lower, never in front of your heart, and try to avoid gesturing with something in your hand (this can be distracting to your overall message).

I would encourage an increase to the frequency and demonstrative qualities of your gestures. People will engage through eye contact. However, their peripheral or indirect vision can be impaired through wearing a mask. Simple hand gestures indicating direction or information pre-pandemic may not be sufficient moving forward.

Confirm acknowledgement through high quality eye contact but include a deeper commitment to more expressive hand gestures. Improve efforts to escort guests to their desired location, i.e. elevators in a hotel lobby, food items in the supermarket, a slower pace to their table in a restaurant or examination room in a physician’s office.

Everyone is adapting, and patience will be the key. For service providers, this is when tapping into your Conscious Confidence is even more critical.

Tone Def-initely

Words and Tone may be the two areas within our communication efforts that require special attention.

We have an advantage knowing these two can balance each other when crafting non-visual or virtual First Impressions.  Phone conversations, email exchanges, introductory letters, or memos . . . all use a combination of words, punctuation, or inflection to create a tonal quality.

“Answer the phone with a smile in your voice” is a classic application quickly adaptable to a hidden-smile environment.

The potential of a tone/inflection combo was on full display during a trip to the supermarket. Our cashier asked if we had found everything we were looking for. Standard check-list material. But it was delivered with such a pleasant, uplifting tone, that when combined with a sparkle in her eyes and upbeat inflection, left no other option but to respond “Yes, we did” . . . although I’m fairly certain we didn’t find everything.

While yours eyes will communicate overall sincerity, information or data, the specific content of your message may need to be relayed through words.

We discovered this additional impact of a mask when first helping local employees apply for financial assistance. Our eyes were filled with compassion, our tone reassuring, but we had to be quite specific with the selection and enunciation of our words to overcome the fear and anxiety of the applicants.

To improve practical application, ask someone close to you for assistance. Not a good friend or Bestie that speaks your unspoken, intuitive language. Not your parents, who can understand you even before you speak. Pick someone else you can trust, to listen to you speak through your mask and provide you feedback.

Run through some of your more common exchanges to determine if your words, tone, and quality of voice are coming through in a clear, concise manner. Engage in conversation, ask them to challenge you . . . on anything, to measure your continued ability to promote a Conscious Confidence through an appropriate tone and accurate wording.

Again, looking for the silver lining behind a mask . . . there are service professionals in our midst that have not paid close enough attention to words that align with and support the higher purpose of their Brands. You know who you are.

Now is the time to make up some ground.

Looking Forward

A warm, welcome smile has long been the cornerstone of a great First Impression. In today’s mask wearing environment, some feel our abilities have been diminished. Not true. A first impression is a cumulative group of emotions, that when expressed outwardly through gestures portray an overall Conscious Confidence. The absence of a smile re-directs attention to the critical role of eye contact as the driving force of a great in-person first impression.

Other forms of communication will be strengthened through our dependency on them. Physical movements, such as hand gestures, will be come increasingly important to ensure clarity, as will the inflection in our tone and words we choose. Partner with someone who is willing to critique your communication skill while wearing a mask, incorporating feedback to improve while adapting to our new normal.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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