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Faking positive attitude at work may backfire, sharing emotions with co-workers can be productive

The researchers sought to know whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers.

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Last Updated: Jan 18, 2020, 05.51 PM IST
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Researchers tried to understand why employees choose to regulate their emotions if there was no formal rule requiring them to do so.
Researchers tried to understand why employees choose to regulate their emotions if there was no formal rule requiring them to do so.
HOUSTON: Faking a positive attitude to elicit benefits may backfire when used with co-workers, according to a study which suggests that making an effort to communicate the felt emotions can be more productive.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, surveyed working adults in a wide variety of industries including education, manufacturing, engineering, and financial services for two types of emotion regulation -- surface acting and deep acting.

"Surface acting is faking what you're displaying to other people. Inside, you may be upset or frustrated, but on the outside, you're trying your best to be pleasant or positive," said Allison Gabriel, study co-author from Eller College of Management in the US.

"Deep acting is trying to change how you feel inside. When you're deep acting, you're actually trying to align how you feel with how you interact with other people," Gabriel explained.

The researchers sought to know whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers.

Additionally, they tried to understand why employees choose to regulate their emotions if there was no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits they get out of this effort.

Based on the survey, the research team could categorise the participants into four groups -- nonactors, low actors, deep actors, and regulators.

The first kind, they said, included those engaging in negligible levels of surface and deep acting.

Low actors, the researchers explained, were people displaying slightly higher surface and deep acting.

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According to the study, regulators were driven by impression management motives, while deep actors were more likely to be motivated by prosocial concerns.
According to the study, regulators were driven by impression management motives, while deep actors were more likely to be motivated by prosocial concerns.

The third kind were participants who exhibited the highest levels of deep acting, and low levels of surface acting, and regulators, they said, displayed high levels of both the acting types.

Nonactors, the researchers reported, made up the smallest group, with the other three groups being similar in size.

Gabriel and her team also identified several drivers for engaging in emotion regulation, and sorted them into two categories -- prosocial and impression management.

The former includes wanting to be a good co-worker, and cultivating positive relationships, and the latter is more strategic, and includes gaining access to resources, or looking good in front of colleagues and supervisor, the researchers said.

According to the study, regulators were driven by impression management motives, while deep actors were more likely to be motivated by prosocial concerns.

Based on this observation, the researchers said deep actors choose to regulate their emotions with co-workers to foster positive work relationships, as opposed to being motivated by gaining access to more resources.

According to Gabriel, deep actors try to be positive with their co-workers for prosocial reasons and to reap significant benefits from these efforts.

These benefits, the study said, include receiving significantly higher levels of support from co-workers, such as help with workloads and offers of advice.

Gabriel added that the deep actors also achieve higher levels of progress on their work goals, and trust in their co-workers than the other three groups.

The findings also suggested that mixing high levels of surface and deep acting may result in physical and mental strain.

"Regulators suffered the most on our markers of well-being, including increased levels of feeling emotionally exhausted and inauthentic at work," Gabriel said in a statement.

Based on these findings, the scientists suggest that there is a benefit to displaying positive emotions during interactions at work.

"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work -- maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction -- is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work," Gabriel said.

"It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve," she added.

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