There’s a place my wife and I go to all the time for dinner. I love the food, and I love the general atmosphere. What I don’t like, rather who, is the guy at the cash register. I haven’t felt comfortable with him since the first time I went there. I’m good with everyone else, but this is a place where you order your food, then they call you back to get it, so you have to deal with him.

Finally, after a couple of years, I mentioned it to my wife. I’m usually a very good judge of character, but I was troubled by this guy. He wasn’t ever nasty, but there was just something about him that was off-putting. My wife immediately nailed it for me; the guy is phony. As soon as she said it I knew it to be true; that she said it showed that she had noticed it also, and was as uncomfortable with the guy as I had been.

How can you tell phonies? They seem to be going through the motions without really meaning anything they say that might be nice. This cashier, for instance, always has one of those forced smiles that looks like he’s exerting a lot of effort to put on. He sometimes has this condescending way of confirming your order, and the few times I forget they don’t take American Express, he seems to revel in telling me they don’t accept it; it actually seems like he’s bearing his teeth when he says it.

Once she put it into my mind, I realized that there are quite a few people I’ve met, and still know, who are phonies. They just seem emotionless, as if every word is calculated; like reading from a script. I almost hesitate to say that because I’ve had people begin talking to me on the phone and you know it’s from a script, yet they can sound pretty convincing.

Here’s the general question; how do you deal with phonies, whether you’re in the workplace or in your personal life? I think back to when I was an every day employee and knew that some people were phonies, even if I hadn’t attributed a word to it. Luckily, when you’re in a management position you can handle those people if they report to you, or even if they’re co-workers. But what if you reported to a phony, or, as a manager, you have to act like you really care or are really trying to help your employees when even they know you’re acting?

I deal with phonies usually by being either humorous or ignoring them. I have to admit that it depends on my mood and the situation. The cashier is a necessary evil to get food I love, so I tolerate him. The cashier at McDonalds who never says “hello” or “thank you” has her issues as well, so I just ignore her and glory for the days when someone else is working so I can be my normal, charming self. In work situations, I go through with business because the job is the job, and goal is getting things done, and I don’t care as much about personalities in those situations.

Unfortunately I’m not an acting coach. I can’t teach you how not to be a phony. I can say, however, that if you know you really don’t care about your employees then you shouldn’t be in management because you don’t have the capability to be a good leader. Leaders care and know how to communicate. Managers can learn how to do both, but only if they care to change. Phonies usually don’t care to change; they might not even know their being phony.

Do you know any phonies?

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