Can you ‘fake it til you make it’ when it comes to personality traits?


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It’s been a summer of not-enough-Netflixing, so forgive me if I’m still hung up on Alway Be My Maybe. Months after watching the rom-com, my stand-out moment is—well, it’s slow-mo Keanu Reeves, you can’t deny that kind of elegance in movement. But, okay, my second stand out moment is when Marcus calls out Sasha for using her heightened and pretentious “phone voice.”

“You know, that voice you use on the phone,” Marcus says. “‘Brilliant!’ ‘Excellent as always!’ ‘Ta-ta, Julian!'”

It cuts me to the core because I’ve absolutely adopted a “phone voice” in order to conduct interviews. If I couldn’t fake being friendly or jovial with sources I would’ve ended my career… well, I probably would’ve never started my career in the first place. Even when the conversations are lovely and engaging (which they always are, of course), I feel exhausted by the performance. But I know I’m in good company. As one recent Reddit thread points out, people fake everything from confidence and impartiality to intelligence and ambitiousness.

My question is, does that even work? And more to the point, are there some traits that are easier to fake than others?

“Research shows that the whole, ‘fake it till you make it,’ thing does actually work in some cases,” says psychologist Paulette Sherman, PsyD, and author of Dating from the Inside Out. You already kind of know this because of how many introverts use an extroverted persona, right? But it extends to other personality traits as well, sometimes for the better. In fact, one trait you can project successfully and to your overall benefit is confidence.

“When you act ‘as if,’ hopefully it’s changing not only your behaviors, but also how you feel and think about yourself from the inside out.” —Paulette Sherman, PsyD

Status enhancement theory says that when people act confident they start feeling that way,” says Dr. Sherman. “And when you act ‘as if,’ hopefully it’s changing not only your behaviors, but also how you feel and think about yourself from the inside out.”

So true, love it. On the other hand, what are the limitations to faking it until we make it? If we someone is looking closely, our body language betrays us here. For example, I can go into a meeting all bellow-y and animated like I’m the most confident cat in the world. Unfortunately I am wildly insecure, so the fact that I’m shaking like a salt shaker calls my bluff. So does the fact that I’m sweating bullets. (Bodily functions will stab you in back, too.)

“When you feel strongly another way, there can be cognitive dissonance, and this can seep through nonverbally and in your emotions and people notice the incongruence,” explains Dr. Sherman.

“Sometimes women fake certain traits more, like agreeableness or smiling, because it’s socially expected, or men fake confidence, toughness, or ambition.”

How you’re socialized also plays into what traits you may choose to emulate. Though my real-life pokerface is terrible, I still find myself feigning friendliness from time to time because that’s what the patriarchy expects of me. That is—and I know you’ll agree with me on this—trash. No woman loves to grin and bear the “You should smile more!” game.

“Sometimes women fake certain traits more, like agreeableness or smiling, because it’s socially expected, or men fake confidence, toughness, or ambition because they may think it’s expected for them to succeed,” Dr. Sherman says.

So it goes. At face value, we can successfully fake personality traits that will get us ahead in life, and that isn’t necessarily an evil thing. There’s no way I could’ve gotten as far as have without a chipper cadence on cue, and sometimes it does make me legitimately friendlier. But like Always Be My Maybe demonstrates, the people who get to know you will learn to see through that mask, and maybe there’s some humorous comfort in that. At the end of the scene in question Sasha throws an affected, mocking “Excellent, ta-ta, Veronica!” at her best friend.

Veronica doesn’t wait a beat: “Oh, don’t use your phone voice on me, bitch.”

Oh, and in case you were ever curious, this is why you tell little white lies in casual conversation. And here’s the secret to whether you have real intimacy in your relationship…or are just phoning it in.

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