Fake or Break - The Highs and Lows of Bravado at Work

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We all do it sometimes, but could "faking it" actually hinder rather than help you in business?

By Kathryn Lukaske (Freelance Senior SEO Copywriter)

The other day, I was pondering the expression “Fake it till you make it”. Did you know that this catch phrase is so prevalent, it has its own Wikipedia page?

It's described as “the ability to imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success, it will generate real confidence.” Sounds good. But can "faking it" at work help you, or hurt you?

There are three definitive schools of thought on faking it in the workplace:

1) Confidence: The Self-Assurance to Appreciate One's Own Abilities

What do successful, influential people have in common? What gives them the courage to speak in front of millions of people? What gives that business leader the ability to regularly churn out ideas and products that, while risky for her company, hold the potential to bring her game-changing success? For any of these people to do what they do, they need a belief in themselves that allows them to persist in the face of failure...to keep trying...pushing through the fear. These people have confidence...and it lives inside each of us.

Need help bringing out your inner rock star?

Here’s a good way to start: Play the pretend game. If you’re confident and make it seem like you’re somebody, people will think you are somebody. Then, you “fake it” while you acquire the mad skills and knowledge necessary to actually be that somebody. Voilà! Self-fulfilling prophecy.

But, is it really that simple? Prevention Magazine reports: “In research at Wake Forest University, scientists asked a group of 50 students to act like confident optimists for 15 minutes in a group discussion, even if they didn’t feel like it. The more confident and energetic the students acted, the happier they were.”

Confidence plays an important role in building healthy relationships, achieving success in your professional life and staying motivated. It can be used as a temporary public stepping-stone, while you privately gain the knowledge and expertise you need to back up that attitude with tools that will help you to attain your goals.

So. The question is not so much whether we fear failing or looking foolish (as most of us have felt this at one time or another), but whether we allow these feelings to prevent us from taking the steps we need to achieve our goals. For those who aren’t looking to deceive – who honestly want to learn and develop their expertise – faking it until you legitimately make it might not be such a bad thing.

2) Some Don't Believe They Really are That Good: Impostor Syndrome

Are you someone who lives with a nervous undercurrent of fear that you’ll be “discovered” for not being experienced or smart or (fill in your fear here)? First described by psychologists, Dr. Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD in the 1970s, Impostor Syndrome occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Researchers believe that up to 70% of people have suffered from this at some point. Actress Kate Winslet confided: “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot and think, ‘I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.’” Liz Bingham, managing partner at Ernst & Young, once thought to herself, “What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out.”

Impostor Syndrome is the domain of the person who aims high and is committed to giving their best to every endeavor…not the person who sets the bar low. So, if you see yourself in this description, you need to realize that your challenge (and your worst critic) lies within yourself.

To combat Impostor Syndrome, ensure that you’re setting reasonable expectations for yourself. No one is flawless…and expecting perfection is a surefire way to fail. Also, appreciate that appearing confident doesn’t translate to being a fraud. We all have moments when we need to fake confidence when we may not organically feel it. Building this skill – without practicing any intentional harm or deceit – will help you to feel credible even when you’re out of your comfort zone. And remind yourself regularly of your achievements. Our selective memory tends to focus more on our failures than it does on our successes...don't turn a blind eye to all you've achieved to get to where you are now.

But what about those that are coasting through…pretending to know it all…with no intention of leaving the fakery behind?

3) The Forever Faker: A Deceptive Time Bomb, Waiting to be Exposed

We’ve all worked with people who seem to lack authenticity and credibility. You know the type; they tend to deflect our requests for information, rather than admit that they don’t know the answer. Most credible people aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know it all…and by utilizing a dodge-and-run strategy, the faker displays a sense of dishonesty and arrogance that puts people off.

Cameron Anderson, a psychologist from the business school at the University of California, Berkeley, says, “Most of us have a pretty good radar for BS, so bluffing could make you seem more like a phony than the confident professional you’re aiming for.”

Faking it is also stressful. Dodging questions all day long would be exhausting…and living under a cloud of worry that you’ll eventually be exposed would lead to many sleepless nights and tense days.

Forever Fakers ultimately have a short shelf life. You can only fake your lack of knowledge for a finite amount of time before you're considered ineffective...or worse, you've hindered your team from reaching the success they deserve. Hiding under an umbrella of longevity or a senior position won't protect you from this harsh truth, so consider whether your deception is worth bringing down an entire organization. It's never too late to start asking questions, or perhaps even calling in some backup to help bring you up to speed.

It’s important to remember that faking knowledge is not the same as faking confidence.

The takeaway is this: Don’t fake it till you make it. Instead, fake it until you become it.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Photo credit: Gts via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger:Kathryn Lukaske is a Sr. Copywriter with a robust background in SEO, Digital Content Management, Marketing and Social Media. She makes every effort to inject a little humor into everyday life.