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Are You Smiling?
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Are You Smiling?


15yearsago‘Whenever I’d call my mother on the phone when I was a kid,’ began Brian Van Bower in a column he wrote for WaterShapes’ January 2002 edition, ‘she’d start the conversation by asking me, “Are you smiling?” ’

At a time when the pressure is on businesses to perform with higher levels of client service and accommodation than ever before, that question might carry even more significance than it did when Brian first wrote about it. He continued:

‘Back then, I never gave her greeting too much thought because that’s what young people do: They ignore their parents’ wisdom until they realize at some point just how smart the old folks could be. As I’ve grown older and gained experience in business and life in general, it has occurred to me that my mom’s question is important and even a bit profound.’


‘At first blush, this notion of smiling on the phone is sort of silly. After all, no one sees your face when you’re on the phone, so who cares about the expression on your face? But the truth is, this question of whether or not you’re smiling on the phone has everything to do with the way you come across to the person on the other end of the line. Mom knew this – and pounded the wisdom into me through years of our own phone conversations.’


‘Since I’ve become aware of the importance of things like phone etiquette, I’ve paid an unusual amount of attention to the way I feel when I’m greeted by another person on the telephone. You don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize that, all things being equal, most people will choose to deal with someone who is friendly and courteous as opposed to someone else who isn’t.’


‘In my own experience, I’ve found that those very first words I hear on the phone sometimes tell me too much. When an indifferent monotone or, worse, a snippy or curt voice greets me, my mindset is affected instantly. That’s not necessarily a fair or informed reaction and doesn’t necessarily reflect the nature of the firm or individual I’m contacting or the caliber of its work, but nevertheless my immediate response has occurred and my mood has been influenced.’


‘[M]ore often than not, I find that an unfriendly greeting is all too often perfectly indicative of the rest of the conversation, and there are times I just can’t wait to get off the phone. Sometimes it has little or nothing to do with the actual content of the call: It’s all about the unspoken attitude behind the words.’


‘When the phone rings, I consciously make certain I put a smile on my face. When I’m busy or in the middle of some sort of crisis, smiling obviously can be a difficult thing to do, yet it’s at those times that remembering to smile when saying hello is the most important of all. I take a deep breath, and when I reach for the phone I give that person my full attention in a respectful and friendly way.’


‘[M]any of the most successful people I know in the watershaping business pursue business in this way, and almost all of them will tell you that working this way, with this sort of passion and positive energy, makes everything easier, more fun and often far more profitable.’


‘I can’t count the number of projects I know of in which the work was done satisfactorily, but clients have been left with a bad taste in their mouths. It’s all about mood management, and if you can’t keep your clients smiling, you might be able to solve all the problems, but the hurt feelings and raw nerves will linger to the detriment of future business.’

Have you found that encouraging a client’s good mood hinges on your awareness of the communications dynamics Brian defined for us ten years ago? How has modern technology (cell phones, social media and more) influenced the way you work with your clients? Please share your thoughts below.

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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