The Good and Bad of ‘Faking it’

Faking it

To fake it or not to fake it - that is the question

You might have heard some conflicting advice about 'faking it' - this short post aims to offer some clarity.

What is 'faking it'?

Fake is a form of pretend. If applied to the description of a Gucci handbag then it means that the fake handbag was made to look just like the original but was not make by the approved manufacturer.  Originally these items were purchased with the intention of fooling others to think that the owner had the real thing and be impressed! This evolved into something else over time however - people knew they were fakes and they were sold as fakes - and it was cool to have a fake! Crazy world.

If applied to a person 'fake' can mean any of the following:

  • Disingenuous
  • Putting on an act - not being real

The description is not usually positive.

However - I am an actor - I have spent years being something that I am not! Is this bad? No. This is a deliberate behaviour for the purpose of portraying a character within a fictional or real story. I am still me - but I am playing someone else and need to go through various internal and external processes in order to make that a convincing experience for the audience. There is certainly nothing 'bad' about this!

There is a place for bringing some of this 'play-acting' kind of 'faking it' into real life situations - and there are also situations where trying to be something you are not is totally unhelpful. Let's look at the good and the bad side of faking it.

When can 'faking it' be good?

  • As a confidence building mind-trick  in situations such as public speaking
  • To modify certain aspects of 'self' to suit a situation
  • To demonstrate something through role-play

When can 'faking it' be bad?

  • Fooling yourself that the 'fake' you is the real you
  • Putting on an act in order to be manipulative
  • Trying to be like someone else - because you want to 'be them'

Is 'faking it' a good remedy for public speaking fear?

Good question? 

A personal story - because it is relevant!

I was a shy kid. The only time I felt I had a voice at school was in English lessons when it came to my turn to read a passage out loud - I was good at it and I enjoyed it.  I took up elocution lessons (they were a thing in my school back then). I found a skill for learning lines. From here I joined a local drama Shakespeare drama group. What followed was an on and off journey as an actor - eventually become a professional actor in 1995.

The reason I recount this journey is - I discovered that acting or 'faking it' was a life-saver. My acute shyness (coupled with what I now recognise as low self-esteem and self-doubt) was not much fun. When I had a 'role' to play I lost that shyness - bliss!

But there is a next step to this journey that really demonstrates how a certain amount of 'faking it' can be good for you! 

Over the course of many years the skills I developed as an actor taught me a lot about how to 'breathe' into a role and inhabit it whilst remaining in control of the script and aware of reality (after all anything could happen in life theatre).

It was also the case that over a period of time I was able to perform when not playing a part! 

In other words I had followed the advice that Amy Cuddy would give many years later:

Don't fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.

Away from the acting world I also used the 'faking it' technique to deal with talking to strangers. As a speaker I had to socialise with my audiences before and after my speaking spot. The speaking bit I had no problem with - the socialising I dreaded! 

I knew I had to find a way of dealing with this. So I did. 

I used some elements of faking it - but kept in touch with who I was and certainly didn't manipulate or lie!

What were these elements?

  • Thinking a smile and a positive confidence into my whole mind and body before entering the 'space'
  • Tweaking my appearance and communication style to match the norms/energy/vibe of those I was with.
  • Upping my energy and engagement levels when I was 'not in the mood'
  • Giving myself a 'talking to' in the third person: 'Come on Trisha - you are good at this!'

To sum up then

There are elements of 'faking it' that are very helpful and perfectly justifiable - just do it consciously and not in a way that feels you are betraying yourself. We all have an on stage and off stage way of presenting to the world - and that is just part of being a human. I have always been fascinated by the work of Erving Goffman and his 'dramaturgical model' ... have a look at this video and hopefully you will be fascinated too!

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Trisha Lewis

I help people become more effective communicators through the kind of coaching that offers a safe space to explore and rehearse and better understand the impact they have. My blog is full of insights and tactics that will help you break down the barriers that prevent you from being a truly effective communicator. These insights are based on my own experience as well as the issues raised during coaching sessions and workshops.