Lead by Being Your True Self

March 3, 2020
Why covering up your emotions may actually limit your effectiveness as a business leader.

When it comes to your feelings and emotions at work, it may be detrimental to hide how you’re actually feeling. 

That’s not to say you should start yelling at your employee if they’re chewing their food too loudly, or that you should start throwing things around if your morning commute was frustrating. Instead, you should find ways to really turn your feelings around, rather than just pretending that you’re fine. 

A recent study, led by Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona and co-authored by Chris Rosen, management professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that there are, essentially, two kinds of acting that people do to manage their feelings: surface acting and deep acting. 

Rosen recently explained the two for FenderBender

Surface Acting: is where you’re feeling upset and try to act like everything is fine. For example, if you had an extra long commute and you come into work and someone asks you how you are and you say, “I’m fine,” Rosen says. 

“A surface actor might say that they’re doing great but feel terrible,” Rosen says. 

Surface is faking in bad faith, Rosen explains. Doing this day in and day out with coworkers is difficult to fake. 

Deep Acting: Deep acting is when you try to change how you feel to match the emotions that you want to outwardly express. For example, instead of focusing on the fact that you’re upset that there was a crash that caused your commute to be 20 minutes longer than normal, you’ll focus on the fact that you’re lucky not to have been in the crash. 

A deep actor will engage in emotional regulation, Rosen says. They may write down things that they’re grateful for. This helps their outward display reflect what they actually feel. 

The study found that the more you pretend (aka surface act) the more exhausted you are because it’s draining to fake your emotions, Rosen says. Those that deep act, on the other hand, reported lower levels of fatigue and also reported better relationships with their coworkers. 

“The key is that positive emotions are a resource that has value in your personal exchanges,” Rosen says. 

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