Is that smile *really* a smile?

Is that smile really a smile?

by Barbara Chatzkel

Last month’s post provided an overview of facial business body language. Today we’ll spend time on two individual facial body language broadcast areas – the smile and eyebrows.

Think of the last photographs taken of you. Were you happy with your smile? Did it look more like a grimace? Differentiating between a genuine smile and a fake one tends to be pretty straightforward.

Characteristics of a genuine smile include:

  • Eyes crinkle, especially at the outside corners
  • Nose may be slightly crinkled
  • Corners of lips turn upward naturally and the lips part, revealing teeth
  • The “apples” of the cheeks raise and look puffy
  • It is a broad grin

Characteristics of a fake smile include:

  • Lips tend to move laterally toward the ears instead of upward
  • Teeth and jaws are clenched together even when revealing teeth
  • Mouth may be closed and tight-lipped

The differences between the two types of smile, as shown in the comparison photo, are slight, but the message conveyed is vastly different.

smile styles1smile styles2Another place to look for big clues about what the other person is feeling is to check out the eyebrows. Now, we are not evaluating whether they are well groomed eyebrows or unruly. Our focus is on the eyebrow movements. Yes, that thin line of hair above your eyes is very expressive.

If you are meeting someone for the first time, watch their eyebrows! If they smile and the eyebrows “flash” – that is, rise rapidly and then return to the neutral position – then the conversation will likely go well. Interestingly, this phenomena occurs only the first time you meet someone.

Things to observe about eyebrows and what they might mean:

  • “Knitted” eyebrows (raising the eyebrows and moving them together) signals displeasure, unhappiness, or anxiety.
  • Raised eyebrows accompanied by widely opened eyes may signal surprise, worry, or fear.
  • Lowered eyebrows with crease lines between them signifies anger or displeasure.


eyebrowsAs with all body language, you should not draw a conclusion based on just one component or body part broadcast. Look at the whole face, or if possible, the whole person and evaluate what you see as a whole.

Next month we’ll learn more about feet and legs. They don’t lie, so they provide powerful indicators of what is really going on.

Have an enjoyable month and remember to periodically check to see that your body language actually mirrors the message you want to send.


  1. Over the next week observe several dozen people smiling. Can you tell if the smile is genuine or fake? What are the key clues for you?
  2. Take two selfies this week – one with a genuine smile and one with a fake smile. Which one comes more naturally for you? If you aren’t happy with your smile, practice it!

Barbara Chatzkel’s ability to provide a vibrant and behavior-changing book extends Chatzkelacross industry segments – everyone uses business body language. Her coaching and consulting expertise on business body language grew from conducting union negotiations, managing difficult personnel situations, managing at multiple levels, and extensive business coaching experience. Her new book,
Business Body Language: Your Visual Business Card, will be available in print in  2015. Visit her website today for further information.

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2 Responses to Is that smile *really* a smile?

  1. Mary Lou Glick says:

    Interesting information, Barbara!


  2. jksails says:

    Maybe I saw similar recently concert by Venetian string group playing old instruments. Will watch with new eyes next time!


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