By: Alvina Ng
We’ve all felt it before – that lazy feeling that takes over when we don’t exactly feel like smiling and meaning it. While this fleeting act suffices for passer-bys, ‘frenemies’, or even friends you don’t really have the energy to deal with, faking a smile as an occupation, or even at work, has been shown to be detrimental to one’s health.
In my Occupational Behaviors class, we learned about the acts of surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting is the change of behavior, the managing of observable emotions to fit a role. Deep acting, on the other hand, is the managing of feelings for a role. In the case of faking a smile, surface acting seems to be the act that creates a sense of cognitive dissonance in us.
Cognitive dissonance, as all psychology majors have come to know so well, is the discomfort felt when there is a discrepancy between personal beliefs and the behavior emitted. This tension is constantly sought to be relieved by any means possible, and in some cases, the belief is changed to match the behavior.
In a Psychology Today article, research found that other consequences of faking a smile include decreased work performance as well as physical malaise. Faking a smile has been shown to lead to lower employee satisfaction and quicker job burnout. This research aligns with the concept of emotional labor, which is the enhancing, faking, or suppression of emotions to change emotional expression to adhere to display rules (the “rules” in an occupation that indicate what type of emotion one should convey). This means that the more employees try to suppress or fake any type of emotion on the job, the more they are likely to burnout; as a result that effect, they will be less satisfied with their job. It really comes to no surprise, seeing as how consistent tension between how an employee may really feel and what display rules tell them to convey can be exhausting to the psyche.
So now we know what the issue is in the workplace, but how can it be rectified? Let’s redirect our attention to deep acting. When faced with such cognitive dissonance, sometimes the best thing to do is to cognitively change the way one feels inside. This can be done several ways, one of which includes the recollection of a pleasant memory to frame one’s mind in a more positive light to match the perceivable behavior.
Another solution to this dissonance is a cognitive reappraisal of the situation. By reframing one’s thoughts or by putting oneself in another person’s shoes, an employee is less likely to feel upset about a situation. For example, for those dealing with angry customers as part of their job, perhaps telling yourself the customer merely has the interest of fixing a problem and finding a solution will help prevent yourself from feeling like you are being berated.
One of the caveats of deep acting, however, lies in the fact that too much deep acting over time may feel disingenuous; you may feel as though you have lost your own self-identity from all the acting. Therefore, deep acting may only work for a certain amount of time, in which case the moment it stops working and you are still experiencing cognitive dissonance may be time to look for a job that doesn’t cause so much emotional grief.
“Smile Like You Mean It at Work” (Source)