Surface Acting: bad for business and your health

Angry Twins by Pelle Sten (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pellesten/8286639449/)

Angry Twins by Pelle Sten

Have you ever been in any kind of meeting that made you angry, sad, excited, disappointed or frustrated? Sure you have (if not, I want to work with you!) and you’ve also probably tried, on occasion, to mask that emotion. If you’re British, there’s the idea of the stiff-upper-lip and there’s probably similar in other cultures. However, this is bad for your long term emotional balance.

‘Surface Acting’ is a means of managing ones emotions. This technique allows you to pick the right emotion for whatever situation you are currently in. We do it in all kinds of situations; doctors, waiting staff, the police. Any situation where we’re unable to generate any kind of sincere empathy means we resort to acting the correct emotion.

A recent study highlights that we even do this in meetings. The study claims that 15% of of personnel budget is spent on meetings, yet up to a third of all meetings are a waste. They make links between surface acting and the perceived effectiveness of the meeting. Because an attendee is expending energy on portraying an emotion they might not be feeling, that’s energy that isn’t being spent on the purpose and outcome of the meeting. It requires self-control and limits our ability to attend to what is going on, as part of your attention is turned to acting.

It’s also exhausting. Those who reported high levels of surface acting, when quizzed three months later, exhibited higher emotional exhaustion, or burnout, scores and an increased intention of quitting altogether!

So, next time, you feel an emotion, let it out. Be truthful with the way you feel about the world around you. Be mindful that you’re not being a dick and ensure you’re meeting the needs of the people around you, but don’t mask emotions. It’s unhealthy and, usually, untruthful. I’ve blogged about lying before, so this study further supports the idea that politicking around the office is not only bad for business, but also bad for your health.

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Shanock, L. R., Allen, J. A., Dunn, A. M., Baran, B. E., Scott, C. W. and Rogelberg, S. G. (2013), Less acting, more doing: How surface acting relates to perceived meeting effectiveness and other employee outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86: 457–476. doi: 10.1111/joop.12037

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