Talk less.  Smile more.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016 10: 00
Written by Joni B. Bailey

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This sage advice from Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton in the musical, Hamilton, is solid advice for everyone.  With the election conversations behind us and the Thanksgiving conversations ahead of us, I thought this would be a great time to share some nuggets from the two-day Search Inside Yourself (SIY) leadership conference I attended in Louisville, KY earlier this month.

Talking less allows us to listen more:

At the SIY conference, we practiced mindful listening.  Here is a description of a basic exercise:

The structure is simple:  Person A talks for 3 minutes while person B listens; then they switch roles. The most you’re allowed to say when listening is “I see” or “I understand.”

Sounds simple? 

It isn’t.  Three minutes is a long time whether you are talking or listening.

Here are some obstacles to mindful listening:

  • Feeling the urge to share your own story
  • Feeling the urge to offer advice or solve the problem
  • Experiencing wandering thoughts or distracting emotions
  • Wanting the speaker to like you
  • Thinking about doing the exercise right
  • Thinking ahead to what you were going to say in your 3 minutes
  • Making assumptions about what the person talking is trying to communicate

It’s no surprise that the mental tendencies I noticed during this meditation are mental tendencies I experience every day.  After this exercise, I was convinced that there was a place for more mindful listening in every facet of my life—at work as a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney, with friends, with family.

(Another great reason to limit how much you say:  The simple act of talking has been found to increase blood pressure in both children and adults.)

Listening means picking up on nonverbal messages, too:

With the mindful listening exercise, I found it was also easier to open my senses to the nonverbal communication—whether I was talking or listening.

Words are only a small part of the communication between people, in fact nonverbal cues—hands, arms, body, facial expressions, eye movement, body movement, breathing—often tell a completely different story than the words. Here is a link to an article about some of the basics in our nonverbal vocabulary.

One nonverbal cue—smiling—is especially important:

The article noted above describes these marks of a confident person:

  • Posture – standing tall with shoulders back.
  • Eye contact – solid with a "smiling" face.
  • Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate.
  • Speech – slow and clear.
  • Tone of voice – moderate to low.

We all know this in our gut, but we might not have thought about it in our daily interactions.

Picture the people in your life who have been natural leaders, best friends, close confidants—Did they have warm, genuine, smiling faces, too?

Smiling is good for you:

Smiling is not only good for interpersonal relationships, scientists have concluded that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms as much as—or more than—many pleasurable events.  Think of that!  Big rewards with no calories!  No cost!  Very little time! 

There are real smiles and there are fake smiles:

Smiling uses hundreds of different muscles in your face.  Some smiles involve just the muscles at the corners of the mouth; some smiles also involve the muscles around the eyes.

Which smile is the fake smile?  You tell me.  First think about the way you smile when you bump into someone in public that you are not really comfortable with but have to be polite to; then picture a cute baby or puppy or kitten or funny video online.

Okay, I’m convinced, but can I get better at smiling?


  • Imagine a situation of joy before an event
  • Practice smiling in front of the mirror
  • Become comfortable with smiling

Here is one dentist’s website with step by step exercises for a perfect smile. 

Before the New Year is even close, I’m going to make a resolution:

Talk less. Smile More!

Joni Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative.

social security disability lawyer in murphysboro, il

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