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Smiling In Victory Makes Our Competitors Less Cooperative

You've just had a huge workplace win, and you feel like taking a victory lap to celebrate! But new research might make you wonder whether the victory lap is worth it.

Winning the lottery wouldn't change me because I'm already insufferable.

The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory had 370 participants play a game in which they had to decide whether to split, or to steal, a pot of money. Participants were paired up. If both participants chose to split, then they would split the pot evenly. If one player chose to split the pot while the other chose to steal it, then the one stealing it would get the entire pot. If both choose to steal, then nobody won.

Still with me? Good. The official USC press release explains what happened next:

Each participant was paid $30, with participants receiving additional tickets for a $100 lottery generated by their total number of successful "steals" and "splits."

As participants played the game against each other on video Skype, reactions were recorded and encoded using emotion-tracking software that captures muscle movements in the face including cheek, lip and chin raises, dimples, and the compression and separation of lips.

As for the motivations of the players, researchers hypothesize that successful, smiling stealers open themselves to future punishment by the loser, while smiling during such a loss is seen as a gesture toward cooperation and a feeling of mutual success.

So smiling when we win a heated contest can make a rival less cooperative in the future. But smiling when we lose tends to improve our odds of success going forward. Perhaps our rival senses a certain kindness, grace and dignity in our willingness to smile upon defeat, and wants to find future opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.

We didn't much appreciate the kid on the school playground who always yelled "I win!" after (cheating at) kickball, and now we're adults in the workplace watching that co-worker flash a megawatt smile after sealing the deal. We can all take the workplace advice of actor Rob Lowe, who has never had a real job (please see Tip #1).

Bottom line: When you win big at work, it's best to keep your response somewhat humble, your smile wan and the victory shared whenever possible. I couldn't have done it without everyone's help. Like actress Emma Stone, you find a way to salute the competition.

Everyone will appreciate your restraint in victory and your smile in defeat. It's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game.


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