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Covering Up Your Emotions May Actually be Detrimental

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March 18, 2020—When it comes to your feelings at work, it may be detrimental to hide how you’re actually feeling. 

That’s not to say you should start yelling at your coworker if they’re chewing their food too loud or you should start throwing your stuff 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, was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that there are two kinds of acting that people do to manage their feelings: surface acting and deep acting. Within those two categories, there are different variations, but these are the two main strategies. 

Rosen broke down the two. 

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 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. 

Deep acting, as opposed to surface acting, is faking in good faith, Rosen says.  

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, noting that they received more help when needed. They also reported higher levels of trust with their coworkers and greater progress toward goals. 

For shop owners that would like to promote more deep acting within their companies, Rosen suggests that leaders provide counseling to help staff see another person’s perspective, which will lead to greater empathy and deep acting.  

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

Learn more on this topic through this Harvard Business Review post.

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