Plastering a smile on your face can get you off the hook quickly when you’re trying to avoid social interaction in the workplace – but it can also backfire on you.
Being genuine, however, leads to more positive results than simply faking camaraderie with one’s colleagues, researchers from the University of Arizona learned.
There are generally two ways employees handle their emotions in the workplace, they said:
- Surface acting – feigning interest or positivity towards other people
- Deep acting – matching how one feels inside with how they treat other people
“Surface acting is faking what you’re displaying to other people. Inside, you may be upset or frustrated, but on the outside, you’re trying your best to be pleasant or positive,” said Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and the study’s lead researcher.
“Deep acting is trying to change how you feel inside. When you’re deep acting, you’re actually trying to align how you feel with how you interact with other people.”
Do nice people really finish last?
Different people have different motivations for playing nice. Deep actors – people who show the highest levels of authenticity – are reportedly more likely to exhibit prosocial behaviour. That is, they aim to be good co-workers because they believe in building positive relations at work.
On the other hand, regulators – people who tend to mix deep acting with higher levels of surface acting – are said to be mostly influenced by impression management. This entails showing positive behaviour in order to gain a strategic advantage over their rivals; have greater access to resources; and look good in front of others, the researchers found.
In the end, however, people who are authentic reap the benefits of their positivity in the workplace. They are reportedly more likely to receive higher levels of trust as well as emotional and professional support from their colleagues, and report greater progress in their career.
But regulators, Gabriel said, show “increased levels of feeling emotionally exhausted and inauthentic at work.”
“I think the ‘fake it until you make it’ idea suggests a survival tactic at work,” Gabriel said. Faking positive emotions could undermine one’s health and professional relationships.
“In many ways, it all boils down to, ‘Let’s be nice to each other.’ Not only will people feel better, but people’s performance and social relationships can also improve.”