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Being inauthentic by hiding underlying authentic emotions may be done with a prosocial motivation to benefit others, with a realization that true authenticity may not be appropriate for the context.
While being perceived as authentic is ideal, actually always behaving authentically can lead to disaster. Imagine a manager who, while laying off an employee, expresses underlying happiness because her soon-to-be spouse just accepted her marriage proposal that morning. Or an executive sending out a message about a new company diversity initiative, but doing so in a dour tone because his child just dropped out of college.
Regardless of their motives, it is first important to acknowledge that despite someone’s best efforts, true underlying emotions often do leak through, resulting in emotional mismatches that may make them appear inauthentic.
It may be difficult to display the needed emotion due to challenges or conflicting factors directly related to the situation.
For instance, even when required by a job, it can be nearly impossible to engage in authentic “service with a smile” if a customer is yelling at you, or be emotionally supportive of a subordinate whose recent poor performance created more work for you.
Even if there are no emotionally-relevant challenges to the situation itself, emotions often spill over from one moment to the next. A strong emotion from a prior interaction doesn’t automatically dissipate as soon as that interaction is done.
As a result, emotions may linger to contexts where they are no longer appropriate. For instance, a manager might want to communicate excitement about an upcoming business opportunity but may feel stressed for an unrelated reason.
Given that many workplace interactions now occur at a distance, there is often a choice of which mode of communication to utilize, from email to face-to-face and video conferencing. If it’s possible that some modes of communication can result in misinterpretations or masking of emotions, could they be used strategically to make inauthentic emotions seem more authentic? In other words, which communication medium is best for being perceived as communicating emotionally authentically, even when the communication itself may be inauthentic?
Even when an individual’s emotion is truly authentic, there are now technology-driven communication barriers that may prevent that emotion from being perceived as authentic. Especially given recent pandemic-related workspace changes, many work interactions now occur at a distance.
Yet, significant research shows that virtual communication can undermine effectively communicating emotion.
When emotion is authentic, it is best to use the richest communication medium available, such as face-to-face or video communication. However, when needing to relay inauthentic communication, there was a surprising difference.
Email communication was not the best choice — but neither was face-to-face communication. It turned out that over the course of many interactions, “medium richness” communication, such as telephone or audio, is most likely to make inauthentically communicated emotion seem the most authentic.
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