An Insinscere Smile Is Better Than A Sincere Frown

Larry Galler

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The other day I drove from Chicago to Northwest Indiana on the Indiana Toll Road. I usually have quite a bit of loose change and pay the tolls by throwing the correct amount into the basket, thereby saving a few seconds. But this time I didn’t have any change so I went through the attended lane and handed a dollar bill to the attendant.

He gave me a cheerful “Hi!" as I handed him the money and then said, “Have a safe day!" as he put the change in my hand. I was so dumbfounded by the exchange that I barely had time to reply, “You too!" as I smiled and accelerated back on the road. “Wow! I just saw the world’s friendliest toll road attendant – today’s my lucky day!" I thought to myself as I drove. I had to pay one more toll and got the same reception – a smile and a warm greeting with my change. I wondered whether the planets had aligned differently or somehow the attendants had mistaken me for some Hollywood celebrity and gave me the royal treatment.

I mentioned my experience later to one of my cynical friends who said, “they probably heard that a “courtesy inspector" is coming through today. " Well that may be so, but whatever the reason, those two people exceeded my expectations, put a smile on my face and, even if they were faking it, helped make my journey pleasant. I’d much rather see an insincere smile that a sincere frown any day.

When dealing with customers, staff, vendors, we all have the same opportunity to help make their journey more pleasant with a smile, a pleasant remark. Even if we are having a rotten day ourselves, even if our feet hurt, even if we are tired of taking tolls, making change and trying to be pleasant we still have that obligation to ease the journey of those with whom we come in contact with. Inspire yourself and your staff to be pleasant, polite, and positive – it will put a smile your customers faces and smooth the bumps in the road.

Larry Galler coaches and consults with high-performance executives, professionals, and small businesses since 1993. He is the writer of the long-running (every Sunday since November 2001) business column, “Front Lines with Larry Galler" Sign up for his free newsletter at Questions??? Send an email to


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