The adage "Fake it until you make it" — the idea that someone can fake a positive attitude to elicit real-life benefits — often backfires when used with co-workers, according to a study led by Allison Gabriel, a University of Arizona researcher in the Eller College of Management.
Instead if faking it, she said, making an effort to actually feel the emotions you display is more productive. Her team analyzed two types of emotion regulation that people use at work: surface acting and deep acting.
"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," Gabriel said. "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."
"The main takeaway," Gabriel said, "is that deep actors — those who are really trying to be positive with their co-workers — do so for socially positive reasons. They reap significant benefits from these efforts."
Those benefits included receiving significantly higher levels of support from co-workers, such as help with workloads and offers of advice. Deep actors also reported significantly higher levels of progress on their work goals and trust in their co-workers.
The study results suggest there is a benefit to displaying positive emotions during interactions at work, she said.
"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel said. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work."
"In many ways," Gabriel added, "it all boils down to, 'Let's be genuinely nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."