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Good managers fake it

07 January 2013 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Research published today suggests that managers recognise the need to feign their emotions at work, especially when interacting with staff.

This is the key finding of a doctoral study conducted by psychologist Chiara Amati, from Edinburgh Napier University. She is presenting her work today, Thursday 10 January 2013, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology. The Conference is being held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Chester.

To date the management literature has been promoting the notion that good leaders and managers are authentic, open and honest. However, the present study paints a slightly different picture, at least as far as managers are concerned. To ensure employees perform well in their jobs, managers need to manufacture positive and encouraging emotions and override any unhelpful, private thoughts.

"Faking it seems, to a degree, to just be part of good people management," reported Chiara.

In her exploratory study, Chiara interviewed 12 managers and surveyed 30. The findings present an interesting observation of the ways in which managers get results.

Chiara commented: "Managers who spoke to me reported feeling obliged to monitor their public displays of emotions in order to manage staff performance and maintain good working relationships with their team. In many management roles, especially lower down the hierarchy or ranks of power, it is more important for managers to deploy influencing skills to get people to do things; they simply do not have the authority to command unconditional respect.

A further finding of the study suggests that female managers may need to contrive their emotional displays more than their male counterparts.

"Female mangers need to deal with contrasting workplace stereotypes; on the one hand they are expected to be warm and nurturing, not angry or aggressive; on the other, displays of emotion, such as crying, are often seen as openly manipulative," reported Chiara.

Anne, an interviewee recounted an incident when she had become angry in a meeting. Rather than taking on board what she was saying, the men in the meeting did not listen nor take what she said seriously. Anne was laughing when she remembered: "The message was 'Am I ok?', as if I was unwell or ill. This is a cultural thing, isn't it? A woman gets angry so you ask 'is she ok?'".

Chiara continues: "We have known for some time that the emotional climate in the workplace is a key factor in employee wellbeing and performance. We have also known about the need for managers to be emotional intelligent to be successful. What we have established here is just how important it is that managers 'perform' or put on a public emotional show, even if they don't feel like it.

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