Do you have a 'no' face or a 'yes' face?

I recently heard an impactful story. Perhaps it might touch you.

Thomas Jefferson was traveling by horseback with a group of colleagues. As they approached a river, they met others at the river who were on foot. The river had overflowed its banks and the current was swift. To cross the river was going to be a bit dangerous.

A lone foot traveler approached President Jefferson and asked if he would take him across. The president agreed immediately and the man climbed behind him on the horse. They safely crossed the treacherous river.

Afterwards, another person asked the lone traveler, “Why did you ask the president of the United States to take you across the river?” The man, with a shocked look on his face, admitted he had no idea that he had asked the president of the United States. “All I knew,” he said, “is that on some of your faces was written the answer ‘no’ and on some of them was the answer ‘yes.’ His was a ‘yes’ face.”

Do you have a “no” face or a “yes” face?

Think about your workplace. Are there people you interact with who are no-face people? I’m guessing there are more than a few. They tell you, with their facial expressions, not to approach them. And if you must approach them, you know if you have to ask them to do something, the answer will be no.

Conversely, others in your organization are yes-face people. These folks indicate facially that they are willing to be approached and, if you ask something of them, will try and say yes.

Much has been written about the fact that we choose our attitudes every day. We cannot always control what happens around us and to us, but we can control how we respond. Those no-face people see the glass as half empty, while the yes-face ones see it as half full.

Some organizations try and ensure, through their hiring practices, that they consider this. Chick-fil-A is a perfect example. It figures it can teach how to be a good order taker, but it cannot teach attitude. I am told the company spends a lot of time trying to ascertain whether candidates have, in our lingo here, a yes face. For those who visit Chick-fil-A, you actually see the difference in their employees versus the attitudes of employees in other fast food restaurants.

Does your organization try to hire yes-face people? Or have you ever even thought about it?

I hope I’m a yes-face person. I try to have a positive attitude about life. While things in my life are not perfect and certainly don’t always go my way, I want to be thought of as a person who saw the glass as half full.

What kind of face do you present to the world? Would a person ask to hop on the back of your horse to cross a river, based on what your face is saying? It’s certainly given me something to consider.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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