I was listening to Bollywood’s leading star Shahrukh Khan talk about a new generation of professional actors. These actors, he said, play out a range of emotions yet remain detached from these emotions when the play is over. His simple formula for success for the movie world was:
Detachment + Emotional = De-Emotional
Organization behaviour research tells us that the process of managing emotions at work involves two kinds of acting skills: surface acting and deep acting. Take surface acting first. It is a faking process whereby the actor is able to alter his outer expression leaving the inner feelings undisturbed. For instance, a subordinate may actually feel that his boss behaves no better than a chimpanzee in suit. Yet he greets his boss in office with a deferential and elaborate ‘Good morning, Sirrrr!’ as though the boss was no less than the Sultan of Brunei. On the other hand, deep acting involves hard work whereby a worker may actually change her internal feelings in line with organizational demands. Take the case of a seasoned nurse or a veteran airhostess who can display more natural and genuine expressions of empathy or attentiveness.
Behavioural scientists agree that surface acting is more harmful for the psychological and physical health of the employee than deep acting. Think of a fleeting two seconds smile of a receptionist that flickers like a defunct tube light before her face grows dark again. This kind of acting creates inconsistencies within the human system. Companies that advertise their products through celebrities who have no emotional investments in their products often forget this simple truth: their potential customers are just laughing. At them! Surface acting that is uninviting, distant and aloof builds walls not bridges with customers.
Deep acting, on the contrary, creates greater connect between the actor and his constituency. Think of judges or policemen who have to control their facial or bodily emotions to maintain order and a commanding presence before their audience. If a judge is unable to withhold his emotional outburst during a court proceeding or a policemen who appears too effeminate before an offender, are likely to be perceived as comic characters rather than administrators. Sales people who are capable of deep acting bring repeat business to the organizations they work for. Doctors who are capable of acting out deep empathetic relationship with their patients are trusted to provide better quality health care by the patients.
Professionals in any walk of life have to evolve from surface acting to deep acting. Even that is not sufficient to bring them respite from emotional labour that many stressful jobs demand. In order to achieve corporate nirvana a professional needs to be a devotee. A devotee is someone who is totally committed, intellectually and emotionally to the work at hand. In my most recent book Invincible Arjuna I have written on this:
Whatever or whoever we completely devote ourselves to, fully occupies us. If we devote ourselves to ignorance, we grow in our ignorance; if we devote ourselves to that which we like; we simply perpetuate our desire for our likes. If we devote ourselves to the higher intelligence of love, beyond our likes and dislikes, we begin to embody that love.
If you are truly devoted to your craft, you can live a full range of emotional life and yet gain detachment and tranquility from emotional turmoil. I met a man who is the star doorman in a Palace hotel. His claim to fame is his thick and busy handlebar moustache. You can call him a moustache devotee. He spends hours oiling and grooming his hairy assets and smiles a broad soulful smile each time a guest enters or exits the hotel. The man is a true spectacle; he has delved way deeper than surface acting to the heart of devotion.
Surface acting is like swimming on the stormy face of the ocean. You are tossed around in an emotional roller coaster ride. Devotion is like a deep sea dive: calming and exhilarating at the same time. Try and experience it!