fbpx

What is the Smile Test?

What Is The Smile Test?


I think a lot about people and how they behave and, more importantly, the reasons they behave the way they do. As a life coach and a bartender, its pretty much my profession.

The other day, I was talking with another bartender about some of the biggest “tells” guest have that let us know whether or not that person is worth us spending extra effort on. Bartenders work for tips, and most people in the industry have a give-to-get mentality (which in itself is problematic, but I’ll get to that.)

Probably the two most common things a guest can do that tells a bartender they are not worth the bartender’s time is telling the bartenders, “I’m gonna tip you,” or trying to get a busy bartender’s attention by waving cash or a credit card at them. Essentially, to a bartender this reads as “I don’t normally appreciate your hard work enough to pay you, but right now there’s competition for your services, so under these specific circumstances, I’m willing to pay you.” In other words, 9 out of 10 times, these guest exploits bartenders for free service, which does not exactly endear them to us.

At the same time, most bartenders and servers who are good at their job take great pride in providing service above and beyond. Considering that they expect to get tipped/paid for that service, they are in fact expecting the interaction to be transactional, so they aren’t really that different from the guests. And if you ever get to hear service industry people after hours complaining about guests, you’ll see just how toxically transactional that attitude can become.

The Test

As I as thinking about all this, I was riding my motorcycle to a meeting and happened to pass another bike going the opposite direction. I extended my hand to wave and the other rider waved back. This is very common between riders. (Also common between Jeep owners, which I also drive. LOL)

When I parked the bike and was walking into the coffee shop, I smiled at a pedestrian passing me and they looked away, ignoring me – that’s when I realized what the test had to be! It was so obvious and easy I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before. I doubt I’m the first person to think of this, so if you know any where else this test is discussed, please send me the link!

The test is simple: Walk down the street and smile at several strangers until at least on doesn’t smile back. That’s it.

How it Works

The answers to the test come when you consider how you feel when someone does not smile or wave back.

If you feel slighted, angry, annoyed, or in any way negative toward that person, you had an ulterior motive for smiling at them, you wanted something in return. You had an agenda. You were being nice to them with the expectation of them being nice in return. Its what Dr. Robert A. Glover would call a “Covert Contract” in his book No More Mr. Nice Guy.

If, on the other hand, you shrugged it off, thought “maybe they didn’t see me,” or “maybe they’re having a bad day,” or made any other excuse for the stranger not returning your smile, you smiled selflessly, you had no ulterior motive behind your smile.

Why It Matters

There are two reason it matters whether or not you have an agenda when you interact with other people. First, it affects the quality of your life. I’m not exaggerating. When you need other people to validate you, you give them power over your mood. If you’re happy, and you smile at a stranger, and they don’t smile back does that change your mood? If such a simple thing from a total stranger can affect your mood, changing a good mood to a bad one, think how easily you can be swayed by every single interaction you have every day! Allowing yourself to be tied to such tiny interactions from people subjects you to a stormy sea of emotional changes all day long.

If, conversely, you are unaffected, or, better yet, sympathetic to the other person who didn’t smile, your sense of well being comes from inside, and it not easily changed. Have you ever seen someone who seems totally at ease, calm and confident in the midst of utter chaos? Or someone who seems totally unaffected by the angry tirade of another person? That person’s sense of self comes from within, and they don’t need validation from outside. They can find peace and happiness regardless of the circumstances, and that actually draws people to them. Their lack of need for validation actually leads to validation anyway! As one client of mine put it, you become a singularity attracting everything you want in life to you.

Which brings up the second reason this test matters – your agenda undermines your results. People sense an ulterior motive a mile away, its makes them suspicious of you. They don’t feel they can trust you. A lack of trust is no way to build a friendship or customer base.

There have been a number of studies about tipping, and they all pretty much come to the same conclusion: Tipping doesn’t really vary according to quality of service. Bad tippers are bad tippers, no matter how good the service is, and good tippers are good tippers no matter how bad the service is. Some people use tipping to make a point, but when averaged out, good or bad service only change the tip rate by +/- 1%. So, for a bartender, having an agenda of getting better tips by providing preferential service to certain customers really doesn’t help.

So what then?

As a bartender, I’ve learned to give the best experience I can to all my guests, regardless of what I think they will tip. Personally, this allows my mood and level of personal happiness not be swayed by bad tippers or rude guests, so I win. But, there’s a long run win here, too.

When I do my best for my own reasons, just as when I smile for my own reasons, I attract people to me. People like being around me, and that leads to, among other things, better working opportunities. By setting my own high standard of service, I have moved up the ladder to higher priced and higher volume bars, at which I earn more money by default. Not because I had the agenda of earning more money, but because I had personal desire to perform my job at my best.

As a coach, I began by coaching people for free. Because I gave them as good a quality service as I would if they paid, they recommend me to others, some even returned to become paying clients. When people are willing to pay you for what you gave them for free, you know they received valued from it. My standard for coaching is not “what can I charge?” its “What can I do to help this person?” My goal is helping them, I trust that I will benefit in the long run, and I feel good when I see I’ve made an positive impact on them, not when they pay me.

People like to be liked, we are social creatures. We instinctively feel when someone is being nice to us for personal gain, and we are wary of it. At the same time, we feel when someone is nice to us just because they are nice, because they like us. By smiling at a stranger with goal of making them feel good, of validating them, instead of expecting validation is response, we give people that feeling being liked. Its a genuine feeling, and when people feel good because of you, they like you.

Its almost a Zen thing – to get validation from others, you have to give them validation without expecting any in return. In other words, simply give. Do not seek to receive, do not expect anything in return. Do the thing, and move on with the inner knowledge that you did a good, kind, decent thing.

How Does This Work in Business?

Obviously, we all need to earn a living and make money, and we do this by having transactional relationships. So it can seem hard to separate the business agenda of getting paid, from any interaction you have. Ryan Biddulph, in this post on Blogging From Paradise sums up one approach, in giving to build a network, and he also stresses the important to giving to give, not to receive.

I like the idea of “Under promise and over deliver.” If I charge $100 for a service, I want to give you $200 worth of value (at least!). I may not be able to control the costs of a physical product, but I can enhance the value through my level of service to you, my attitude, my attention to detail, by simply caring enough to make sure you are fully satisfied after the sale is made.

The longer you have done anything, any activity, any business, any field of study, the more knowledge and expertise you acquire. Of course, that is of value to others. You can easily provide that knowledge to your customers for free in addition to whatever they buy from you, instead of always looking from a way to monetize every single little thing. In the long run, you will reap the rewards.

You can recycle old articles you wrote, post videos of all seminars you gave, send links of interests to clients from your own or other websites. You know what they don’t, and they will never know as much as you, so stop worrying that you’ll be giving away all your “secrets.” Give them away, share them! It will cost about as much as a smile to a stranger, and most people will repay it in kind.


I hope you enjoy this post and find it useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments. 

You might also enjoy my podcase Slap The Basil on Anchor.fm or your preferred streaming service, where I talk about a lot of the same stuff, but you get to hear my excitement, too! LOL

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *