Experiencing and feigning emotions

Emotional labor creates dilemmas for employees. There are people with whom you have to work that you just plain don’t like. Maybe you consider their personality abrasive. Maybe you know they’ve said negative things about you behind your back. Regardless, your job requires you to interact with these people on a regular basis. So you’re forced to feign friendliness. It can help out, especially, if you separate emotions into felt or displayed. Felt emotions are an individual’s actual emotions In contrast, displayed emotions are those that the organization requires works to show and considers appropriate in a given job. They’re not innate; they’re learned. The ritual look of delight on the face of the first runner up as the new Miss America is announced is a product of the display rule that losers should mask tier sadness with an expression of joy of the winner. Similarly, most of us know that we’re expected to act sad at funerals regardless of whether we consider the person’s death to be a loss ad to pretend to be happy at weddings even if we don’t feel like celebrating.

Effective managers have learned to be serious when giving an employee a negative performance evaluation and to anger when they’re been passed over for promotion. And the salesperson who has not learned to smile and appear friendly, regardless of his true feelings at the moment isn’t typically going to last long on most sales jobs. How we experience an emotion isn’t always the same as how we show it.

The key point here is that felt and displayed emotions are often different. In fact, many people have problems working with others simply because they naively assume that the emotions they see others display is what those others actually feel. This is particularly true in organizations, where role demands and situations often require people to exhibit emotional behaviors that mask their true feelings. In addition, jobs today increasingly require employees to interact with customers. And customers aren’t always easy to deal with. They often complain, behave rudely, and make unrealistic demands. In such instances, an employee’s felt emotions may need to be disguised. Employees who aren’t able to project a friendly and helpful demeanor in such situations are likely to alienate customers and are unlikely to be effective in their jobs.

Yet another point is that displaying fake emotions requires us to suppress the emotions we really feel (not showing anger towards a customer, for example). In other words, the individual has to ‘act’ to keep her job. Surface acting is hiding one’s inner feelings and foregoing emotional expressions in response to display rules. For example, when a worker smiles at a customer even when he doesn’t feel like it, he is surface acting. Deep acting is trying to modify one’s true inner feelings based on display rules. A health care provider trying to genuinely feel more empathy for her patients is deep acting deals with one’s felt emotions. Research shows that surface acting is ore stressful to employees because it details feigning one’s true emotions.

As we’ve noted, emotional norms vary across cultures. Cultural norms in the United States dictate that employees in service organizations should smile and act friendly when interacting with customers. But this norm doesn’t apply worldwide. In Israel, customers see smiling supermarket cashiers as inexperienced likely so managers encourage cashiers to look somber. Employees in France are likely to experience a minimal degree of emotional dissonance because they make little effort to hide their true feelings. French retail clerks are infamous for being surly towards customers. (A report from the French government itself confirmed this). And Wal-Mart has found that its emphasis on employee friendliness, which has won them a loyal following among US shoppers, doesn’t work in Germany. Accustomed to a culture where the customer traditionally comes last, serious German shoppers have been turned off by Wal-Mart’s friendly greeters and helpful personnel.

And what about gender differences? Do you think society expects women to display different emotions than men, even in the same job? This is a difficult question to answer, but there is some evidence that upper management does expect men and women to display different emotions even in the same job. In professional and managerial jobs, for example, women report having to suppress negative feelings and display more positive feelings than men to conform to what they say their bosses and colleagues expect. —