Only real smiles count

Authenticity, once more

I was privileged to attend a small literary event with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott last week. He was, as expected, an erudite speaker and one who did not mince words when sharing his opinions on literature, politics or tourism.

Walcott's from St Lucia, an island that has been massively afflicted with huge leisure developments. The (foreign) investors behind them have done precious little for the island in return. ("My" island, Dominica, has been smart enough to focus on high-end eco-tourism rather than mass package tours, and remains relatively pristine - for now.) As a result, the St Lucian relationship with the hospitality industry is not purely positive - and Walcott is clearly angry.

"I keep hearing this thing where if you want tourism, you have to smile," he says. "That's worse than slavery. At least under slavery, you could look grim."*

Hard, hard words, but his point is a strong one.

A false smile is not only dishonest and deadly for the worker's morale - it is also bad business. We are all wary of tricksters, leery of inauthenticity, and that faked smile soon rings our alarm bells. Before ordering your crew to smile, try letting them be themselves - warts and all.

Think about it - it's all about trust, and we all trust an honest curmudgeon more than a smiling dissembler.


Best of all, of course, is to give your team real reasons to smile - like a fair deal and a big say in their creative work. Something that many hotel developers in St Lucia apparently didn't find important.

* My notes of his words, taken down as well as I could on my mobile phone.
Fake smile shot by KM. at flickr.

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