I have a “smile” that I deploy whenever I pass an attractive female in a hallway and she inadvertently makes eye contact. I call it “tight and noncommittal”. The intent of The Smile is say, “No, I’m not interested in hitting on you, so if you say hello I promise I won’t follow you home.” I’ve used it for years.
As I walked through the weight room on my way to the lockers at the gym last week, I had occasion to use The Smile. And for whatever reason, I happened to catch myself in the mirror while it was still on my face.
Damn . . . I need a New Smile for these situations! Because the one I’m using could be charitably described as a grimace. This may have something to do with the reaction its been getting.
The first eye-opening moment of self-realization that I can recall came in college. My parents and I were visiting a faculty member at the college I attended. The faculty member was Asian Indian and had several attractive daughters, the oldest with which I fell into conversation. Now, recently, Sheila described me (in the nicest way!) as a “Christian Dork”, but in college, a more apt characterization would probably have been “College Republican Dork,” which is an order of magnitude worse. So, here I was, presented with a chance to talk to a pretty girl, and what did I choose to talk about?
Politics! And not even international politics either, but petty domestic policy issues with absolutely zero resonance for a young woman who had only been in America for a few years. Although she listened to me with bemused indulgence, the conversation was wrong on so many levels, all of which add up to not getting a second conversation.
But see, the only reason I know this is that one of the younger daughters caught a bit of this conversation on a camcorder. This was back in the early eighties when they were still a novelty, and we all gathered around the television to watch ourselves after dinner. I shook my head in disbelief as I thought, badly played.
I’ve had similar moments when I’ve listened to recordings of my voice. I, for one, am so unaware of what I sound like while I speak that I don’t even recognize my own voice in recordings. But once, my answering machine accidently recorded a telephone conversation with a friend, to which I subsequently listened. And I realized that (1) I talk too fast, (2) I use the word “actually” as an all purpose transition (which is funny because my youngest daughter has now picked up the habit), and (3) I make a “tsk” sound every time I am about to speak.
The point of my relating these experiences is to illustrate that it is very difficult for us to be fully aware of how we present ourselves to other people. We may think that our speech, carriage and gestures ought to be effective, but until we actually see ourselves from the outside we don’t really know.
I would recommend the following:
1. Make a friend.
2. Get your friend to film you interacting with third parties, preferably with parties with whom you want your conversation to be “results oriented.”
3. Watch the video. Take note of your body language and vocal intonation. Solicit feedback from people who’s opinion you respect. And, if this is your thing, have someone point out to you the other person’s non-verbal signals that you might be missing.
4. Rinse and repeat.
Smilewise, I'm working on flirty-with-a-hint-of-smirk. I'm not sure it's working out . . . .