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Evidence-Based Approaches to Virtual Soft Skill Development

Updated: Mar 12

By: Peter Young, CCDP, BBPH

Published February 12, 2024


Fake it Till You make it!

Navigating uncomfortable situations often led me to embrace the cliché “fake it till you make it.” It served as my shield against doubts about my soft skills, or lack thereof. This phrase became my mantra, convincing me that, in moments of self-doubt, projecting confidence was the key to finding my footing. Whether in interviews, presentations, or meeting new people, appearing knowledgeable, approachable, and social proved surprisingly effective. As I reflect on those experiences, it’s clear that, more often than not, the “fake it till you make it” approach worked. I sounded confident, connected with people, and even made new friends.


Stepping into Curiosity

My curiosity regarding its effectiveness led me to explore why this simple mantra held such power and how it aligns with teaching others to be confident in their soft skills. A Google search of the term unexpectedly revealed its origin as a lyric in a 70s Simon and Garfunkel song called “Fakin’ It.” Intrigued, I listened, only to discover it was merely a song about feeling like a fraud.


Ervin Goffman's Dramaturgical Approach
Goffman suggests we are actors role-playing on the stages of life

Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Approach

However, this discovery led me to delve deeper to find evidence-based approaches for soft skill development, thus re-investigating the work of Erving Goffman, a notable Canadian sociologist. Goffman’s perspectives on stigma, frame analysis, and impression management shed light on why “fake it till you make it” has been a successful strategy. His dramaturgical perspective comparing social interactions to theatrical performances emphasizes the roles we act out in different situations. Coupled with impression management, where we carefully present ourselves to shape others’ perceptions, it mirrors our actions during interviews, public speaking, or making meaningful connections.


Leading Experts on Virtual Human Interaction

To understand how this concept applies to soft skill development in virtual reality, I explored the work of Jeremy Bailenson and Nick Yee. Jeremy, a Stanford University professor and founder of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, studies how virtual experiences impact behavior. Nick, co-founder of Quantic Foundry [a market research company devoted to understanding gamer motivation] focuses on psychological research in gaming. Together, their work and experience combined to uncover some exciting evidence about virtual interactions and human behaviour.


The Proteus Effect
The Greek God Proteus could shapeshift to avoid capture by sailors

The Proteus Effect

In 2007, their published article entitled, “The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior” introduced the Proteus Effect, revealing how the characteristics of one’s chosen avatar influence online and real-life behavior. The Proteus Effect, named after the mythical shape-shifting Greek god, showcases that individuals adopting confident avatars online tend to exhibit increased confidence and outgoing behaviors, a phenomenon that then transfers to their behaviour in real life. This notion aligns perfectly with the “fake it till you make it” mantra. By embodying desired soft skills through avatars, individuals can reinforce positive behaviors such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Moreover, engaging in soft skill development through confident avatars can boost learner engagement, leading to more dynamic and effective learning experiences. As individuals consciously or subconsciously adopt learned behaviors from virtual settings into real-life encounters, the impact is significant.


Implications for Soft Skill Development

The implications are worth discussing. Using avatars to embody desired soft skills not only reinforces positive behaviors but also provides a safe and discrete environment for learners to practice. The confidence and subsequent behavioural changes noted in virtual environments then provide the confidence for learners to extend the behaviour to real-life scenarios.


Beyond Soft Skill Development

Notably, this effect has potential to extend beyond personal development to affect areas such as cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. Inclusive avatar design can contribute to a more culturally sensitive and inclusive behavioral approach, potentially reducing stereotypes and biased behaviors not only online, but in society.


Conclusion

So, the next time you think about “fake it till you make it,” consider it not just as a way to convince others but as an opportunity to try a better way to interact with others. It’s a chance to wear an outfit of confidence and discover that it fits better than you’d think. In soft skill development, helping others learn safely and discreetly in a virtual world where they can present themselves confidently, allows them to master skills that enhance their success. This learning experience can transfer into meaningful real-life applications, empowering individuals to step outside their comfort zones and thrive.


References

Goffman, E. (1949). Presentation of self in everyday life. American Journal of Sociology, 55(1), 6-7. Retrieved from: https://monoskop.org/images/1/19/Goffman_Erving_The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life.pdf


Nick Yee’s homepage. (2024). Brief Bio. http://nickyee.com/index-bio.html


Simon and Grafunkel. (2023, April 16). Simon and Garfunkel-Fakin’ It (Audio) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLjHt5tkRFo


Stanford Profiles. (2024). Jeremy Bailenson Bio. https://profiles.stanford.edu/jeremy-bailenson


Stanford University. (2024). VHIL Virtual Human Interaction Lab- Our Misson. https://vhil.stanford.edu/


Quantic Foundry. (2024). The Science of Gamer Motivation. https://quanticfoundry.com/


Yee, N., Bailenson, J. (2007). The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior. Human Communication Research, Volume 33, Issue 3, 1 Pages 271–290. Retrieved from: https://web.stanford.edu/~bailenso/papers/proteus%20effect.pdf


About the Author

Certified Career Practitioner
Peter Young, CCDP, BBPH

Meet Peter, a lifelong learner driven by passion for innovation and personal growth. Positioned in the middle of seven siblings growing up, Peter comprehends the pivotal role soft skills play in maintaining relationships and finding success. From providing behavioural counselling and career counselling to hosting team-building events and activities, Peter's diverse work experiences fueled his curiosity to learn and share knowledge. Armed with a degree in behavioral psychology, real-world roles in social services, and certification in career development practice, Peter brings a unique perspective. Specializing in soft skills like communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and stress management, he employs immersive virtual reality experiences to craft dynamic, positive learning environments. As a certified Career Practitioner, Peter is dedicated to guiding individuals and organizations toward success in today’s fast-paced workplace. Join him on this exciting journey of unlocking potential through innovative and immersive learning experiences.

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