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My boss used to smile at me at work. I do not always feel comfortable smiling, preferring to make sure I produce good work to show my value instead.

Recently he has stopped smiling at me.

I am worried that this may mean he has a worse perception of me than before, maybe because I don't smile back at him. What can I do if I am worried by a recent change in my boss' body language?

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    Hey User, and welcome to The Workplace. We work a bit differently from the other SE sites because of the subjective subject matter, so I suggest taking a look at our help center to get a general idea of what makes a good question. I am going to give your question an edit to try to get you better answers, but if you think I missed the point, you can edit it yourself to make it more clear. – jmac Dec 19 '13 at 8:20
  • Smiling is not a way to "show value." Its a way to be a normal human being. – jmorc Dec 20 '13 at 18:57
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    @jmorc: No, it is a very culturally dependent behaviour. It may be a way to be a normal member of your social group, but that is not universal. – Phil H Dec 23 '13 at 14:36
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He may not be smiling due to personal or work issues totally unrelated to you. For instance, maybe he has a child in the hospital or he is having a work issue with his upper management that has him worried. Most bosses (but sadly not all) will tell you if they have a performance issue with you. I would only be concerned if he smiles to everyone else and not to you. That could indeed be a clue that something is wrong.

However, it is generally a good idea to check in with your boss frequently (whether his body language changes or not). Just ask him how he thinks you are doing or what he thinks you could do better at to be a star performer in his eyes. The only way to know for sure what your boss is thinking about you is to ask.

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Context is everything.

I would not read too much into the body language unless you have a baseline to go on.*

I would also not read into a single body change. For example smiling requires more then just moving your mouth. A persons eye structure will also change. Someone who is anxious will smile but you should see a difference in their eyes as well. But this is something that is not normally easy to pick up on unless you know the person for a while.

So the easy check is, does his body language change from person to person. For example, does he smile while talking to X and Y? Or when switching conversation to Y, does the body language change only then?

  • If it is the former, it is more likely other environmental factors impacting him. I would not take it personal.
  • If it is the latter, then I would recommend to casually ask in private if there is an issue that needs to be addressed. I would go with something like "You appear to be stressed with me recently, is there any reason why?". If he says nothing, follow up with reassuring him that if there is an issue now or in the future that we can discuss in private, as you may not be aware if you have done something wrong.

Another aspect for this is "Mirroring". This is where he will copy your body language. As you don't smile back, he may be mirroring back the same response. It's not easy to see if this is the case. Normally you have to be aware of your body language as you watch his, and be aware of the conversation/surroundings.


* From "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead" by Carol Kinsey Goman.

Related chapters.

  • 5 mistakes people make reading your body language.
  • 6 Body language tips for inclusion.
  • Body language guidelines for negotiators.
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Maybe he's just not that into you anymore. It happens.

Seriously, the only person who can answer this question for you is your boss. Ask your boss simple non-threatening questions like "How are things going?" or say something positive or interesting about your current task when you catch your boss in the hallway. The hallway is good because it will limit the duration of the encounter. If the boss seems disinterested or non-committal toward what you've said, ask to schedule "a couple of minutes" to go over your progress.

You don't need to know why he or she is not smiling. You may find out, but you don't really need to know. What you need to know is whether your work is appreciated or if he or she has improvements for you to make.

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