Council staff dealing with complaints about parking have been told not to smile – in case it inflames the situation.

During a training day, Brighton and Hove City Council employees were told that putting on a friendly face for an uptight resident could cause the complainant to get even angrier.

Staff in the office at Hove Town Hall told a resident using the office that they had found the guidance ‘amusing’.

But a council spokeswoman insisted that body language can be an important factor when dealing with a parking dispute.

She said: “We provide training for our staff to ensure good customer service and to give staff the opportunity to develop their skills.

“Training is also given to new staff on how to handle confrontation.

This is a very specific situation and the training is designed to help staff use body language that would not inflame the situation.

“This includes being aware that smiling when dealing with confrontation could be taken the wrong way.”

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, cabinet member for transport, said: “Our parking staff are working across the board to improve the service they provide to residents.

“Our civil enforcement officers do a lot more than enforce parking. They are the eyes and ears of the city and play a part in keeping areas safe.”

Psychologist and body language expert Dr David Lewis, based in Eastbourne, said the council were right to warn staff about the dangers of smiling.

He said: “Visual communication is as important as the words we say. Even though many people may smile in a confrontational situation to diffuse it, it can be seen as patronising or mocking.

“It is much better to keep a neutral face and show that you are listening.

“Our studies show that one of the best things to do is to then say ‘If I have understood you correctly’ and then repeat back to them what their grievance is, this externalises it.”

This week the city council’s head of transport operations has gone ‘back to the floor’ in the information centres shadowing staff as they deal with the public.