Show Me Some Teeth

There are many lessons I wish I’d learned early in my career, but none more important than the power of a positive attitude, and the impact of a simple smile. I’m fairly even tempered, not prone to fits of screaming or pouting and crying, but people often assumed something was wrong with me because I wasn’t smiling. I’m sure this affected not only my personal engagement, but also my relationships with peers and leaders.

Still, for many years I fought against smiling unnecessarily. I’d think, I’m no trained monkey to respond on cue just to make someone else feel better. To this day I still have an old Ann Landers column clipped from the newspaper that discussed this very thing. In it, the lady writing to Ann was complaining about being cheerfully told to: “Smile! It’s not that bad.” This turned out to be not only improper but extremely insensitive since the woman in question wasn’t smiling because her mother had just died. But I took this to mean that I was correct in my belief.

Of course, now I’d slap my young self upside the head and say, “Girl, please! Smile, it won’t kill you; it may actually help you, and it could make you feel better, even if you’re not feeling bad.” But according to new research, my younger self may have been on to something: Cheerful women are not associated with leadership qualities, but proud ones are.

Initial findings from a long-term project from Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM) found that “women are perceived as being more willing to lead if they show they are proud of their personal performance.” If they’re cheerful, on the other hand, they’re perceived as less willing to take on leadership roles than men who display similar emotions.

It’s probably not surprising to anyone that men and women showing the same behavior are assessed differently. “The surprising thing is that some female stereotypes are reinforced in the minds of women themselves — for example, their tendency to accept a dominant leadership style in men,” said professor Isabell Welpe, one of the researchers for the study.

So what can women do? Well, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Maybe we could create some sort of happy medium between metaphorically showing some teeth, and letting the old peepers send out those “don’t mess with me, man, I’m running this thing” vibes.

Alternatively, when people make faulty assumptions based on stereotypes we could start slapping them upside the head. It could work if we smile while we do it … no?