I just listened to a great Freakonomics podcast, in which the authors discussed “faking it:” Everything from saying, “I’m sorry” to “I love you,” as well as “Yes, I’m happily married with kids and I play golf” in order to land a sales job. Of course, there’s a fine line between innocence and manipulation when we fake it. We figure that it’s OK to lie about family life because if it helps you to get the job, you know you’ll perform when you get there and then your employer will have no regrets. So what’s the harm? We say we’re sorry, even though we don’t mean it because we still want the other person to like us – and, in the end, we want to be able to like ourselves.
One of my favorite questions when I’m recruiting someone is, “What felt unfair to you in your last job?” This is where “faking it” meets the road. How we respond to this question provides a good measure of our integrity or personal culture. Will we always answer with 100% honesty? Really? Even if doing so could hurt you or someone else? Is brutal honesty always worth the price paid?
Of course, where to draw this line is never the same for two people. In large measure, it’s about having enough self-confidence to handle things in a way that would make you proud – to perhaps mitigate, but at the same time accept, any discomfort the honest answer might cause.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of faking it in the workplace, caused by any of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Survival, security, belonging, ego gratification, and self-actualization. It’s easy to see how we might lie for survival purposes (“I really need this job”). However, it’s more difficult to justify faking it for self-actualization (“This little white lie might spur this person toward positive action”).
As the podcast noted, everybody fakes it. In the end, nobody is responsible for the consequences of our faking it except us. Even if the outcome is positive, it can put a dent in our soul, somehow cheapening the experience. The end, of course, does not always justify the means.
So what lesson can we learn? Create a work environment that diminishes the need for faking it. It’s about communicating expectations, ethics, vision, and the other variables that come in to play. In Four Arguments, Don Miguel Ruiz says that we need to be impeccable with our word – without exception. As a manager, we don’t BS people hoping we can gain their loyalty or productivity. On the other hand, if people aren’t performing on the job, we need to be honest about saying so, despite the fact that this might not feel fair to the other person. As employees, we can be honest about our commitment to an organization, our work ethic, and our long-term plans. We can make sure that we don’t place ourselves in situations or with companies where we can’t be honest.
One of the podcast authors asked what would happen if we had a “National No Faking It Day,” where people decided to be brutally honest for 24 hours. In response, the other authors predicted “a jump in the homicide rate.”
In the end, the authors thought that, in order to survive, we need to fake it. For example, it probably wouldn’t make sense for a manager to say exactly what’s on her mind at the moment she’s upset with someone she dislikes. We might not want to speak truthfully about how we feel about a client while they’re in front of us. Or we might not want to punch that guy in the nose – even if he deserves it.
Finally, bear in mind that we have been conditioned to believe that we should “fake it until we make it” by pretending that we like an unpleasant person or situation until we really do or the problem goes away.