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My discussion group today was wonderful, as it almost always is, and about an hour into our rejoinders to rejoinders the question arose, “But what can I do when a difficult person or situation is coming toward me?” After some others gave what I considered too vague answers, because they were not going to be quick enough or spontaneous enough to be effective, I developed my method.

You want to begin with an honest smile, and that may be hard to do if you are looking at the difficult situation, so you need to have cultivated a way to get an honest smile quickly. The reason you want an honest smile on your face is because it keeps your brain thinking in friendly options rather than going into a fight, flight, or freeze mode, and that is what will happen if you put an angry, frightened, or terrorized expression on your face. While the others were developing their ideas I was thinking of ways to routinely get a smile on my face, and it became obvious what to do. Instead of looking at the difficult face coming toward you look at their shoes and observe how unusual and comic they appear. That is easy to do and if you look around at people’s shoes, which we did when I brought up this technique, we all got a chuckle at the variety and absurdity of what we had on our feet. It is easy to put a smile on your face using that technique.

The benefit of this procedure is that it puts you in a better mood for coping with whatever is coming, and when you look up and into a person’s face with a genuine smile it is automatic for the other person to mirror that expression and emotion. Then this supposedly hostile person has a more positive mood moving inside of their mind and it’s easier for the two of you to begin your conversation with a more positive interpersonal affect. That’s got to be a good beginning for any conversation.

After developing this idea for a moment, one of my friends said that at one time he worked as a telephone salesman, and a technique they used was to look into a mirror while dialing a new number and smile warmly at themselves. This is very similar to what I was proposing, and when I think back on this person’s habitual approach when meeting or when inserting a comment into an ongoing conversation, it always begins with a smile and develops into some kind of humor. That is what I have been considering as the sign of a highly developed personality, and here has been that face talking to me for over a year. I am quick to see, but slow to observe. It may seem unusual, but:

Approach new and possibly dangerous situations with a smile, and you can generate  your smile by first looking at people’s silly shoes.