A client recently paid me a very kind but rather unusual compliment.
“Every time I see you”, she said, “you smile at me – and it isn’t just any old smile, but a bright, confident one.”
Apparently my smile brightens her day and does wonders for both her confidence and her hopes for her case.
How nice is that? Apparently I was a smiley baby – and I have been smiling at people ever since. I always used to smile at people when I was a runner. In Yorkshire, my fellow runners always smiled back. Mind you, in London I used to get startled looks in response – and in New York I was stared at like I was a weirdo! So no more smiles there then…
The client’s comments made my day and gave me pause for thought, especially as she went on to add that she recently stopped going to a particular dentist because although the dentist was undoubtedly competent, she never, ever smiled. My client said that she always left the dentist feeling tense and sometimes miserable, not because of the treatment but because of the unsmiling dentist’s terse manner. I know the dentist to whom she was referring and I agree that she gives the impression of being overly serious. However I am equally certain that the dentist would be shocked and horrified if she knew that people thought of her in such a way.
I was thinking about this yesterday as I was having a mug of coffee, relaxing after cycling a record (for me) 30 km on the Wattbike and throwing 16 kg kettlebells some 120 times! I was reading about the presenter Selina Scott’s latest complaint against the BBC, whom she accuses of “blatant and sometimes malign ageism and sexism. I don’t agree.
I have met some older women who have continued to enjoy long and successful careers at the BBC – and in many cases, the sheer force of their vivacious warm and open personalities has been so impressive, it has knocked me out.
Take the 46-year-old BBC newsreader, Fiona Bruce. One day Fiona was filming in Leeds on a wet and windy day, and somehow she ended up in my kitchen at home having a warming cup of tea. She is Oxbridge-educated (which she modestly doesn’t mention, nor that she made it there from a state school), has a seriously sharp intellect, a warm personality – and a contagious smile. What you see on TV is exactly what you get off-screen. I’d place a large bet that when Fiona hits 50, her career will continue to go from strength to strength. And what about Mary Portas, with whom I was once a guest on a Mail on Sunday Women’s Forum? Another bright, larger-than-life character off-screen as well as on-screen, with a huge welcoming smile, Mary Portas certainly hasn’t been “dumped”. In fact, her TV career only took off a few years ago.
Not everyone can hope to succeed in any career and for all of us, luck – being in the right place at the right time – is also required. I believe, however, that on every career path, success in whatever you choose to do has less to do with age and plenty to do with a warm, welcoming smile, a personality, a sense of humour, charm and intellect. If you are good at your job and your personality fits the bill, then I think that with a bit of luck on your side, you have a good chance of being hired. And in these circumstances, I think that a big smile can go a long way. In fact as you age, doesn’t your ability and intellect grow? So why shouldn’t your smile and personality get bigger and brighter as you become more confident in your own abilities and hit the top of your game?
I am known for being very results-driven. A journalist once described me as “the scourge of government ministers, judges and the Child Support Agency” – which is quite a label! So perhaps it is to be expected that quite a few people, meeting me for the first time, have been taken aback and have remarked with surprise that I am not the stern, Margaret Thatcher type they had imagined. And then we laugh.
I prefer that. I prefer to disarm people. Why not? The mistake people sometimes make is to believe that smiling demonstrates weakness, when in fact it demonstrates exactly the opposite. I might even go so far as to say that a warm, open personality is probably the key to any successful career. You may have a razor-sharp intellect but, as my client commented, it isn’t enough.
If your smile shows that you are human, that you do have a sense of humour and that you empathise, of course people will respond. Those who are having a difficult, stressful time – be it in a lawyer’s office, or a dentist’s surgery – like to think they are safely cocooned by people who aren’t just capable, but who also care about them and will go that extra mile for them. A warm smile can do wonders and will melt icy barriers. The brain and the mind behind that smile will do the rest.