Don’t Keep a Straight Face for Success!

               Being successful means keeping all that inner noise from playing out in your facial expressions, right?  Not quite, according to a new study which challenges what we think we know about playing it cool to get the gig.

                From students to public speakers, interviews, and family holidays to game nights, we’re encouraged to be discreet about how we approach others if there’s something at stake.  Maintaining a civil presence means not giving away too much emotion and keeping that smile plastered on because we’re taught that self-expression could dampen our chance of achieving our goal.  What if the opposite was actually true?

                If you’ve got trouble keeping a lid on your emotions, enthusiasm, or anxiety, you might be relieved to hear that in a study of what makes entrepreneurs’ sales pitches successful, genuine facial expressions actually incurred more favorable results than putting on a false show of positivity.

                Before you get too excited and decide to let it all out, the article in the Journal of Business Venturing points out that it was the variety of facial expressions that proved the most valuable.  Entrepreneurs who demonstrated a variety of facial expressions got the funding, including those who expressed fear, anger, sadness, and happiness.

                This variety of self-expression won over monotone emotion (positive or negative) by driving up relatability and increasing the trust by keying into the likeability factor.  Just as we all don’t like a Debbie downer, we’re finding out a Positive Polly doesn’t win points either!

                Being authentic could be the missing part of your cognitive routine.  If you’re doing all the work on yourself and spinning ideas of gold but don’t seem to be getting the academic or professional support you need, try letting go of your idea of what you think success acts like.

                The old adage “faking it till you make it” may not just apply to being positive and smiling through it all—but can now apply to learning to be comfortable expressing yourself in front of others.


  1. Benjamin J. Warnick, Blakley C. Davis, Thomas H. Allison, et al. Express yourself: Facial expression of happiness, anger, fear, and sadness in funding pitches. Journal of Business Venturing, 2021; 36 (4): 106109 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2021.106109
  2. Photo by Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

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