Ask Betsy: The Dreaded ‘You Should Smile More’ Comment

Both in the Women in BCM – Ask Betsy webinar and live at DRI2019, we encouraged you to send in your burning questions for our presenter, BCM veteran Betsy Sayers, MBCP, and you delivered! We’re pleased to present the next installment in a continuing Q&A series.  

Q: The other day my boss talked to me about my upcoming performance review and said that while he was pleased with my work he wanted to give me a ‘heads up’ that at my performance review he would be talking to me about my need to smile more. I was stunned and speechless. What on earth do I say if he brings this up during my performance review?

Betsy: Wow! That’s soooo close to a line no manager should ever cross.

Step 1 – Ask yourself: What happens if I get fired? How badly do I need this job?  How well entrenched in the “old boys network” at this company is this guy? Will I be believed — or out of a job by the end of the day? Is there a person in HR I can trust to talk to about this before my performance review?

Step 2 – Ask your gut what kind of a guy this is – and trust your answer. Is he an elderly well-meaning person, a sleaze-ball or a true predator?

Step 3 – In each case, start out by saying something like “I’m confused. You’re saying my work is good and I take direction well, but I need to smile more when you ask me to make changes…do you mean I should flirt with you?”

The Elderly Well-Meaning Person will be horrified and start stumbling over his words. Then you can either sit quietly and let that sink in for him and see what he does finally say or you can add “Let’s pretend I’m (insert name of male co-worker here) and tell me what you would say to him in this situation.”

The Sleaze-Ball will probably start out saying something like “Well, no, no, not ‘flirt’, just smile more…” Then I would jump straight to “I still don’t understand. I need us to document this in your feedback and next review expectations so I can understand it more clearly. What should I write about smiling in ‘Expectations for next review’?”

The Predator will either get angry or say something stupid to make things worse. Recognize before your meeting that you will likely have to leave this job suddenly if you stand your ground. Decide ahead of time what is the right decision for you. Your options are:

  • Go to HR ahead of your meeting and tell them what has happened and your concerns
  • Ask for a Union or HR rep to join you in the meeting (recognize he will be on his best behavior in front of them)
  • Go to the meeting. Say the words in step 3. Grin and bear his response while smiling sweetly (probably too much just to make a point) – get a good performance review and use it to find a new job IMMEDIATELY
  • Go to the meeting. Say the words in step 3. If his next words are not appropriate say “This discussion is inconsistent with the professional standards expected by our executive and I will not participate any further.” Then leave and go straight to HR to file a complaint.

When you leave the meeting you need to quickly document everything said including date, time, location, and anyone who was around or witnessed your being upset. Send yourself an email with the details (gives you a date/time stamp). Only your HR department can provide guidance on the appropriate course of action.  There are 2 types of complaints that may apply:

  • Conduct unbecoming a supervisor
  • Sexual misconduct or harassment

Gosh, I hope you are able to transfer to another supervisor – good luck!