Sometimes it’s a struggle to keep smiling at work. You may
have had a particularly bad morning at home, or dreading a tough meeting ahead.
How you deal those feelings at work can make all the difference to how well
your day goes.
There’s a kind of unwritten rule that we shouldn’t express
anger or frustration once we are at work. Of course, we should treat those
around us with respect, but should we be faking optimism and positivity when
underneath we’re feeling nothing of the sort?
A team of researchers set out to answer this question by
surveying over 2,500 employees from a variety of industries. Their findings,
published this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, focused
particularly on interactions with co-workers, and suggested that positivity has
some real benefits. But they also showed that some attempts at appearing
positive can backfire.
Surface acting versus deep acting
When we are faced with an unpleasant emotion we can choose
to react in a number of ways, with two of the most common called ‘surface
acting’ and ‘deep acting’.
‘Surface acting is faking what you’re displaying to other
people. Inside you may be upset, but on the outside, you’re trying your best to
be pleasant or positive,” said lead researcher Allison Gabriel. It’s really a
kind of impression management, she explained, such as faking a smile to a
co-worker after a bad morning, for instance, even though you’re not feeling
particularly positive inside.
If you’re more of a surface actor, it can be emotionally
drained to not be authentic, suggests Gabriel. “I think the ‘fake it until you
make it’ idea suggests a survival tactic at work,’ she says.
But if faking a smile is bad, and you can’t let your true
angst show, what can you do?
The alternative is what’s called ‘deep acting’ which is the
process of closing that gap between how you feel and how you behave by altering
your emotional state.
“When you’re deep acting, you’re actually trying to align
how you feel with how you interact with other people,” explained Gabriel. The
study found the benefits of ‘deep acting’ included reduced stress, higher
levels of trust and more support from co-workers, and lower levels of fatigue.
How do you become a successful deep actor?
1. The first step is just paying attention.
Be aware when you’re surface acting, take a step back, and
try to genuinely feel the positive emotions you want to express with others,
2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
You may think your workmate’s jokes are lame, but appreciate
that maybe he’s trying to bring some cheer to a Monday morning.
3. Be genuine. We can all pick up social cues and know when
someone isn’t being sincere. If you ask about a workmate’s weekend, for
instance, then listen to what they say and don’t tune out their answer.
“Plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction
is easier in the short run,” says Gabriel, “but in the long term it will
undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at