Smiling as a Second Language | Brad Montgomery

Or: Yes Brad, You Can Smile in Spanish.


I spent three weeks with my family in Guatemala over the holidays. (What can I say? I have a great job.) I learned about a million things: Spanish, Poverty, Geology, and Food. I also learned that you probably cannot spend too much time with your kids.

But the most surprising lesson I learned is about the power of the smile. And I learned that I have a lot to learn.

Let me explain. During my day-to-day interactions with people, I use a bunch of humor. I joke with everybody from my wife to the teller at the bank to the woman at the grocery store. I feel that I get more of everything when I joke. More fun, less stress, and even better service.
Rewind back to Guatemala. I don’t speak Spanish. And what little Spanish I know puts me well into the category of, say, an underachieving pre-schooler. In other words, my command of the Spanish language is … er … lame.

(I’m not kidding, I’m really bad at it. I probably know about 200 words, but only two of them are verbs.)

This means that my humor came to a dead stop. If you can’t use the language you can’t make jokes. There are no plays-on-words. No subtle sarcasm. No witty comebacks. My entire arsenal of humor was all wet.

To tell you the truth, I was so busy trying to just get by (“Where in the heck is the boat that will help us find the freaking market?” “No thank you, that big bag of onions looks fabulous but I’m trying to buy a banana!”) that I barely noticed that I had not even tried to be funny.

But then — and I know you’ve had moments like this — I got it. I mean, I GOT it. I finally realized that I was totally connected to some Guatemalans, and not others. Some of them seemed super friendly, super generous, and willing help me and my family in spite of the fact that I was butchering their beautiful language.

Why? I finally realized that when I was smiling (or better yet, laughing) I could get away with ANYTHING and people just got MORE helpful. They would laugh and smile back.

So….smiling helps. Duh. I can’t believe that after years of training how to make people laugh, I forgot about the power of laughter.

So… what did I do differently? From that point on EVERY time I interacted with a Guatemalan I made sure I had a smile plastered on my face. A big genuine smile. (Sometimes I faked the “genuine” part, but hey! Authenticity doesn’t have to be real does it?)

(Yes dear readers. That was a joke.)

The result was instant and obvious. When I smiled, people treated me better, I had more fun, and I got more of what I needed. Better directions? Smile. Need to find out what is that gross thing in the stew pot? Smile. Negotiating for that souvenir for your six-year-old? Smile!

So…what’s this got to do with you? When is the last time YOU worked — yes, I meant it: worked! — to make sure you were smiling? Do you laugh as often as you should? Should you smile more?

Don’t you think that smiling and laughing will help your leadership style? Won’t it help you manage others? Sell more? Communicate better? Darned right.

And the cool part is that even if you fake it at first, eventually enough good will result from your fake smiles that you won’t need to fake your happiness any more.

Now that I’m back among English speakers, I’m back to my sarcasm, wisecracks and jokes. But now I smile more too. And guess what? It works in English too.

ARE YOU SKIMMING? Then read this: when you smile and laugh more, you’ll get more of what you want.
What Do you Think? Share examples how how smiling has helped YOU get what you want. (In Business. At Home.)

Leave it in a comment. I dare you!

Technorati Tags: Smiles, smiling, power of smiling, Motivational Speakers

5 replies
  1. Pam Harmon
    Pam Harmon says:

    When I was younger I attended a study group to help us become more public minded. The leader of the group was super and challenged us all to become more positive and change our attitude. We did several exercises ( like walk down main street and smile and speak to everyone we saw before they could speak to us) and when some one said “How are you?” Our only reply could be “Fantastic!”. Needless to say the reactions were awesome! I have made that my motto and no matter how I feel or what the day has in store it really does make the day go better. Plus everyone wants to talk about why you are fantastic. Perfect opportunity to help others have a great day!

  2. Jeff Mittermeier
    Jeff Mittermeier says:

    I smile even when it sometimes seems the time to be grumpy. Ever wake up and say: “Wow I hope I have a horrible day so I can be really grumpy?” Me neither. So, here I go, I supervise 16 people in a callcenter for the VA. My friends/team take calls all day long. Sometimes the callers are nice sometimes, not so nice. We smile together, we bet other teams for who buys lunch, fried chicken moves me…… So here it is to the point. We have the best of 19 teams. We’re near the top for efficiency and quality. Above all, we are the happiest team. People make mistakes, so after I slap them around I tell them: “don’t worry about it, you’re not in trouble.” They believe me, they trust me, they like me. I like them to, they’re a great group of people and we are Champions of our callcenter. Ha, anothr reason for old Jeff to SMILE!!!!

  3. Motivational Speakers: Brad Montgomery
    Motivational Speakers: Brad Montgomery says:

    Thanks Jeff. Your line, “Fried Chicken Moves me…” is the funniest darned thing I’ve read in a LONG time!

    THanks for the comments kids! Keep ’em coming!


  4. Bobbe White
    Bobbe White says:

    It was weird that when people drove by me on our city streets, they would smile at me. And I didn’t know them either. Then I realized that when I squint from the sun, it looks like I’m smiling!! I also realized that as I age, and woe, is me, wrinkle a bit, my face looks better when I smile. Kind of stretches everything out, you know? The last example is when I went to France for 2 weeks when my daughter was studying abroad. She told me that the French don’t smile as they pass each other on the sidewalks, it’s a come-on. Oh come on. I’m 55 years old! I think I slipped a couple of times by mistake and was never hauled off by the gendarmes for misbehavior. Anyway, upon return to the US so many people asked if the French were rude and I have to say each and every time, “Not really.” In lieu of a full blown smile, a pleasant face can work almost as well. It’s like a smile ready to break through, but, mais oui, ne pas Francais! (not in French!) Bobbe

  5. Brad Montgomery
    Brad Montgomery says:

    Ok, some of you know that Im’ living in mexico this year. I need to update this post. Re-reading your comments makes proves this is an interesting topic.

    I’m now an intermediate/beginer Spanish speaker…. still horrible, but have studied a lot. I now have more insight on not only the importance of body language, including humor, but even a few easy-to-learn phrases that help disarm folks.

    Stay tuned to this bat-channel folks!

    Thanks again…great comments.

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