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January 27, 2020
by Elizabeth Pratt

Faking A Happy Face Not A Good Idea With Colleagues

January 27, 2020 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

“Grey skies are gonna clear up… put on a happy face”

It may have worked for Dick Van Dyke, but the idea of faking it till you make it, or faking a positive attitude may not be the best idea with co-workers.

Researchers from the University of Arizona have found that rather than putting on a fake happy face, it is better to make an effort to actually feel the emotions you display.

“We found that people who engage in deep acting with co-workers – that is, putting in effort to feel the positive emotions they are expressing to their colleagues – reap several benefits at work. These individuals tend to have improved well-being, that is, they are less emotionally exhausted,” Allison Gabriel, author of the study and associate professor of management and organizations in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona told Theravive.

“Beyond this, they also see their work experiences improve – they receive more help from co-workers, they trust their co-workers more, and their progress on their work goals improves. Essentially, putting in some effort to be a positive person to interact with has the potential to improve your social interactions, and your experience at work.”

Gabriel and her colleagues surveyed adults who worked in a range of industries like education, financial service and engineering.

They examined two forms of emotional regulation people can use when among their colleagues: surface acting and deep acting.

Deep actors attempt to change how they feel inside to align with how they interact with others. Surface actors fake the emotions they display to other people. Inside they may feel angry or upset but on the outside try to appear positive and fake it till they make it.

In undertaking the research, Gabriel and colleagues identified four different kinds of people. Non-actors were those who didn’t engage very much in surface or deep acting, low actors had slightly higher levels of surface and deep acting, deep actors displayed high levels of deep acting but low levels of surface acting and regulators displayed high levels of both surface and deep acting.

“The ‘fake it til you make it’ idea stems from people who rely in part on surface acting – faking positive emotions when they really aren’t feeling them. This can include instances where people feel frustrated or fatigued at work, but decide to try and fake a smile and a good mood for the sake of their co-workers. Within our work, we found one group of people who used this tactic – regulators used equally high levels of surface acting and deep acting, which suggests that these individuals were trying to be positive, but surface acting was needed to help fake that good mood,” Gabriel told Theravive.

“These regulators suffered the worst well-being outcomes, in addition to receiving lower levels of help. This is interesting, as people who study surface acting in customer service settings see the same thing – customer service employees who fake emotions with customers have worse well-being and worse performance. This means that putting in the time to focus on feeling positively can go a long way. even if surface acting seems like an easy “fix” in the moment,” she said.

The researchers identified a few motivations for engaging in the various types of emotional regulation and classed these in the categories of prosocial or impression management. Those motivated by prosocial reasons had reasonings like wanting to be a good colleague and have positive relationships with co-workers. Those motivated by impression management had strategic reasons like wanting to look good for supervisors or getting access to resources.

Throughout the research, one group came out on top.

“Across our three studies, deep actors continued to fare the best. Interestingly, both non-actors (people who do not regulate their emotions at all) and deep actors had similar levels of well-being at work. This is good for non-actors! But, only deep actors saw the improvements in their social interactions and their work, meaning that co-workers may recognize when employees take that extra step to try and really be positive during interactions,” Gabriel said.

“Our biggest takeaway is that putting in the effort to truly display positive emotions with your co-workers is a good thing – employees will feel better, their work interactions will improve, and their own work progress will improve.”


About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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