How to spot a fake smile

Have you ever met someone, or been in a customer service situation and said, “That person is not genuine”? You instinctively knew that the person was not for real, but you were not quite sure why.

Until now.

One of my favourite books in recent years has been Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”.

Daniel devotes a section of his book  to understanding the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one.

He quotes the work of a French neurologist, Duchenne de Boulogne. This neurologist decoded the key elements of a fake smile vs a genuine one.

Being a neurologist, he used big words to describe those two key elements.

Seeing I”m a bloggist, I’m going to use s simple language…The two elements of a smile are your mouth and your eyes.

First of all, stand in front of a mirror and try to smile without moving your mouth, Pretty tough, right?

Lesson one: your mouth is an important element of your smile. But it is not the only element. The key elements are your  eyes.

If you just smile with our mouth but don’t “smile with your eyes”, then you will be just faking your smile.

Go back to your mirror and smile just with your mouth without moving your eyes. Now smile with your mouth and then show your emotion with your eyes. In other words, match your smiling mouth with “smiling eyes”. When you do this, you will be seen to be giving a genuine smile.

So, going back to my question at the beginning of this blog post. The difference between a genuine smile and a fake smile is in the eyes!

In a customer service environment, you can make customer service personnel aware of the way that they smile. Teach them the difference between genuine “smiling eyes” smiles and fake “mouth-only” smiles.

I agree that you can’t fake it if you don’t have it, but you certainly can make your employees more aware of their own behaviour – and the factors that affect perceptions of them as people and service providers.

Talking about eyes, I recently had a conversation with someone who I knew to be warm in private, but who was not able to show it in public. I pointed out two things. First, he did not show much eye contact. And second, when he did, his eyes were seriously stern. The tip to be seen to be more friendly was simple  – show more eye contact, and to relax his eyes to let them smile in sync with his mouth. Guess what? It worked!

Finally, if you want to have a bit of fun, there is an online test that you can take to assess how well you can spot a fake smile. Go to

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