Organizational theory

Myth or Science? “Smile, and the Work World Smiles with You”This exercise contributes to: Learning Objective: Differentiate between emotions and moods

Learning Outcome: Discuss the importance of individual moods and emotions in the workplace AACSB: Written and oral communications; Reflective thinking

It is true that a smile is not always an emotional expression. Smiles are used as social currency in most organizations to positive atmosphere, and a smile usually creates an unconscious reflexive return smile. However, anyone who has ever smiled at an angry manager knows this doesn’t always work. In truth, the giving and withholding of smiles is an unconscious power play of office politics.

Research on the “boss effect” suggests that the amount of power and status a person feels over another person dictates who will smile. Subordinates generally smile more often than their bosses smile back at them. This may happen in part because workers are increasingly expected to show expressions of happiness with their jobs. However, the perception of power is complex and varies by national culture. In a recent study, Chinese workers, for instance, reflexively smiled only at bosses who had the power to give them negative job evaluations, while U.S. participants smiled most to managers perceived to have higher social power. Other researchers found that when individuals felt powerful, they usually didn’t return even a high-ranking individual’s smile. Conversely, when people felt powerless, they returned everyone’s smiles.

The science of smiling transcends the expression of emotion. While an angry manager may not smile back, a happy manager might not as well, according to the “boss effect” research. “The relationship of what we show on our face and how we feel is a very loose one,” acknowledged Arvid Kappas, a professor of emotion research at Jacobs University Bremen in Germany. This suggests that, when we want to display positive emotions to others, we should do more than smile, such as when service representatives try to create happy moods in their customers with excited voice pitch, encouraging gestures, and energetic body movement.The science of smiling is an area of current research, but it is clear already that knowing about the “boss effect” suggests many practical applications. For one, managers and employees can be made more aware of ingrained tendencies toward others and, through careful self-observation, change their habits. Comprehensive displays of positive emotion using voice inflection, gestures, and word choice may also be more helpful in building good business relationships than the simple smile.

Sources: R. L. Hotz, “Too Important to Smile Back: The ‘Boss Effect’,” The Wall Street Journal (October 16, 2012), p. D2; E. Kim and D. J. Yoon, “Why Does Service With a Smile Make Employees Happy? A Social Interaction Model,” Journal of Applied Psychology 97 (2012), pp. 1059–1967; and K. Weintraub, “But How Do You Really Feel? Someday the Computer May Know,” The New York Times (October 16, 2012), p. D3ExerciseDiscuss situations in which students experienced the “boss effect” either as the superior in the relationship or as the subordinate

Try to remember how they felt about the other person in this situation.

Do you think their expression or that of the other individual really reflected how they each felt.What is your perceptions about smiling in the workplace and whether smiling accurately conveys what people feel.

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