Do you fake it? You know, when you have to put on that positive face with a broad smile that contradicts your true feelings? Not only do most people see right through your fake smile, but you might be hurting yourself in the long run.
A new study at Michigan State University found that people who cover their true feelings with a fake smile during their workday tend to degrade their feelings toward themselves and withdraw from their work.
The study published in this months Academy of Management Journal, followed a group of city bus drivers for a two week period. Researchers found that when the drivers used a technique called “surface acting” or smiling for the sake of smiling, they became emotionally exhausted which resulted in a worsening of their mood.
Additionally, when the drivers used a technique called “deep acting” or displaying a genuine smile produced by personal pleasant memories, their moods improved and productivity increased.
Interestingly, the results indicate that women are impacted more than men to this faking. While the study didn’t uncover the reasons for this difference, the researches surmise that this may be tied to the cultural norms of woman being more emotionally expressive than men.
To me the study hints at our tendency to mask our true feelings and thwart what we feel in our hearts because it is either expected of us or we believe that we need to protect someone else. In these cases, we dishonor not only the other person, but also ourselves.
Regardless of the emotion, we have many choices in how we express it. For example, we can express displeasure in either a hurtful or constructive way. But to cover the feelings with a false expression of pleasure serves no one and as the study shows can undermine your own sense of authenticity.
I also don’t believe in mom’s old advice of “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”. That doesn’t always work, especially if your feelings are being solicited by the recipient.
Your personal health, well being and integrity hinge on honoring your feelings, which are unique to you and can’t be dis-proven by another. “I” messages are useful in expressing displeasure. For example, you might say something like this: “I feel sad when you speak to me that way”.
It’s much easier when expressing pleasure, but sometimes we find it just as difficult because it might not be appropriate. My belief is that it is always appropriate to express what you love about something or someone. If we all did just a little more of that how wonderful everyone would feel and maybe we wouldn’t have to fake all of those smiles.
But if you have to fake it, conjure up a memory of something or someone you love to bring a genuine smile to your face. You’ll feel the difference and the recipient will sense your pleasure.
Brent A. Scott, Christopher M. Barnes. A Multilevel Field Investigation of Emotional Labor, Affect, Work Withdrawal, and Gender. Academy of Management Journal, Volume 54, Number 1 February 2011