Smile at a stranger: You’ll be Happier admin July 23, 2019

Smile at a stranger: You’ll be Happier

Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn of the University of British Colombia performed a study where they measured people’s moods after having interacted or not with their morning barista.  The study shows that those who smiled, made eye contact, and exchanged a few words with their barista were in a better mood afterwards.  The mood swings were of .5 and .6 points on a 1-5 point scale; a 10-12% improvement in mood[1].

The study further found evidence that the effects on mood were brought about by feelings of belonging.  These results suggest that, although people are often reluctant to have a genuine social interaction with a stranger, they are happier when they treat a stranger like an acquaintance[2].

When I think of this study I am reminded of how we initiated the “3 Name Rule” on Santa Fe, one of our first steps to turn the ship around.  I mention this in the animated video about the book.  This rule became an example of acting our way to new thinking – when we acted like we were proud of the ship, we became proud of the ship.

It also reminds me of how we switched from briefs to certifications.  Briefing is what the Navy does before going into an operation.  An officer stands in front of a group and briefs them on the situation, the objectives, and the means.  We’ve all seen the briefing scenes in war movies where the general points at different locations on the map, the soldiers nod and march off.  The problem with briefing is that it is not interactive.  Those being briefed are completely passive with no responsibility to study beforehand.  They simply nod and say they’re ready.

This point was admitted to me during a de-brief after a training exercise where the crew committed a lot of mistakes when one of the officers said that most people didn’t pay attention during the briefing session.  We decided to make a change. Instead of briefs we would do certifications. Instead of lecturing the crew, the officer in charge of the brief had to ask the crew questions to make sure they were ready for the operation. Now the burden of responsibility was on the crew.  This change from passive to active interaction was another one of the mechanisms that helped Santa Fe turn around from worst to first.

Do You Brief or Certify?

An effective survey question to ask employees is how many minutes a week they spend learning on their own, not directed.  Typically, you will get pretty low numbers and that will be a strong indicator that your people are passively being briefed instead of actively being certified.  

How to Implement Certifications

In order to shift the mindset from passive briefing to active certifying, ask people to do specific action items before the certification. This could be reading assignments or thinking assignments for questions to consider before coming to the certification. Make sure your team knows that this is a decision meeting to determine if they are ready to perform the operation or procedure. Knowing that they may well have to decide that they are not ready is a great motivator for making sure they prepare adequately in advance.

Can you see certifications working in your work environment?  What problems do you foresee facing in implementing this kind of practice?  Share your ideas in the comments section below.

[1]“Chatting with the Cashier Will Improve Your Mood.” HBR Blog Network: The Daily Stat. HBR, date last updated (30 October 2013). Web. Date accessed (30 October 2013).[2]“Is Efficiency Overrated? Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect.” Social Psychological and Personality Science. Web. Date accessed (30 October 2013).