The Shoe Fits

Have you ever wondered what the effect of a smile has on people? Have you ever noticed what happens when you smile at a total stranger?

My wife and I were down at the Hermosa Beach Fiesta over the weekend at a gigantic open air market in which we had set up a booth to sell her marvelous new shoe bags for women. There were thousands of people attending this event but we were just one little pink tent amongst a huge throng of hawkers, artisans, craftspeople and (very popular) food and drink venders. How to get along in such a bustling community?

We were rolling out a fairly new and very novel approach to a traveling shoe bag. In fact they look like adorable little pairs of pants. And this was the conundrum for us. How to get people to stop and “sample our wares,” if you will.

Some folks suggest sitting back and letting the bags speak for themselves. This is better if one has a product that people recognize. The hot sauces, the beef jerky, the photographs and art work, (especially) the sterling silver jewelry are immediately fascinating, but what about the folks who might take a casual glance at a booth and think they see a tiny pair of pants, cute as they may be, but for a small child or circus performer? Our targeted audience of the middle aged business woman on the go would pass by and perhaps exclaim, “Oh thank God I don’t have anything in my life that would fit into those!” Not realizing, of course, that, in fact, some of her most prized possessions would fit beautifully into them. Her Jimmy Choos. Her Christian Leboutins. Her exquisite Louis Vuittons. The divine Guccis. You women know what I am talking about. Some of the hundreds of shoes you are addicted to in your closet. All would benefit immensely from our product. But we needed to get their attention first.

We tried standing outside the tent and do the hawker’s call. “GET your hot Shoe Bags HERE! UNIQUE Shoe Bags for your most Valuable Possessions!”

That went over like a pregnant high jumper. Potential buyers would push past us as I would when confronted by hungry rabid salesmen. Time for a new approach.

The Shoe Fits - Phyllis

Working the smile!

What if I did nothing but smile? What if I located folks approaching the tent and simply catch their attention by smiling at them? Not maniacally, or lasciviously, but sweetly as if to say, “Good Morning. It is a good day to be alive.”

Well, goodness be, I found I would get a smile back, and with that gentle contact came the brief interest in looking beyond my smile into our pink tent of goodies, and then another smile at the cute little shorts that when questioned could be explained as the next most important purchase of their lifetime.

I found that by finding things to ask about them, comment to them about something they were wearing, carrying, or doing was so much more effective than worrying about selling the shoe bags. I could never get them to the product if I didn’t have authentic and natural contact with them first, but once making that connection, the shoe bags could then sell themselves.

I wonder if the popular motivational sales folk talk about this? Probably. But best lessons are usually learned by one’s own practice.

A smile works. A lesson I have learned time and time again.

So many folks in my therapy practice come in and exclaim that they don’t know how to “talk to girls” or “talk to guys.” They can’t figure out the right words to say, they are anxious and scared of rejection, and so we start to rehearse (hence my work- Rehearse For Life) and I always ask to start with a simple smile. That is all.

I suggest the precept- what if we all have a touch of nervousness in us about contact? What if we all want to be received well? What if we all are waiting for the other person to make the first move?

Well, let’s try being the first to brave that smile?

I live in a community of frosty old world middle eastern men and women whose natural propensity is to scowl as if they have just smelled a bad fart. I love nothing more than to greet these old geezers as we pass by each other on the street with a smile or a simple “Good Morning.” It rocks their world. You can literally see them gets flummoxed as if to say, “Goddammit. I don’t want to have to change this lemon puckered smirk upside down and be gracious to you, young man, but since you are being so sincere in your welcome, I guess I’m gonna have to find a way to smile back at you.” And then I experience a look that comes halfway between a difficult bowel movement and a pained but deeply tried expression of thanks. And I get it and I send back my gratitude for their effort. All happening in a millisecond. Amazing. A full conversation without a single word being spoken.

The smile at work again.

What about the ones that refuse to give up their brickface? I tend to believe that the courage we take in being the first to give in and present the vulnerable smile will have a lasting effect, even if you end the contact feeling like you have just continued to ruin their day.

Have you ever been in a foul mood and someone is nice to you, but you just can’t budge out of your negative quicksand? I have. People who smile at me get a wilting disdainful look that could melt steel, but always, as I think back on the moment, even mere seconds later, I appreciate their attempt at contact, and it helps me come out of my own negativity to get some perspective. Even though I didn’t get it at the time, couldn’t show my thanks at that moment, their smile continues to work on me later. That’s the point.

We cannot assume that our gentleness and kindness is not an asset when we are scared and nervous to show that sensitivity. It is like that wonderful poem of the lighted candle burning through the dark.

“There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
-Edith Wharton

And so I end this piece by suggesting that we all take a moment to practice our smile out in public, especially when we think we are going to get razzed for it.

Who knows? It might lead to your meeting the perfect Shoe Bag.