Practical Developmental Ideas #B3 July 2005

Being Authentic

This ezine is about the power of being authentic and the impact we can have just by being ourselves. Being you is also much easier than pretending to be someone else but it can be frightening too.

Why is being authentic important?

Effective relationships in and out of organisations depend on trust. I am more likely to trust you if I sense that you are being genuine and authentic rather than “acting” to get an effect. Authentic people ask for what they want and explain why they want it so you know where you are with them. They build trust by being congruent so you judge that they are trying to practice what they preach.

There are also major benefits to the authentic person. An authentic person knows that she or he is being true to her or himself and is always doing the best he or she can. Authentic behaviour elicits a response to your true self. This inevitably leads to learning and growth and eventually a better fit between your skills and the world.

You can easily see how the opposite might happen. If you “act” your way into a job by pretending to be what you are not – you will then have to “act” all the time you are in the job. This will be exhausting and you may be found out.

When you express your feelings directly and authentically, without blaming, the impact can be amazing as the following example shows.

How being authentic has changed a difficult relationship

I have changed some of the details here to protect client confidentiality but the essence is right. P had a difficult relationship with his boss Q. Although the company was losing lots of money, Q attempted to micromanage P and was not at all strategic. He also did not give P the support, appreciation or interest he wanted. He overloaded P with work.

Eventually, Q queried a trivial expenses claim twice and P decided he had had enough! P told Q directly how he felt about the relationship between them, that he felt, hurt sad and angry and that Q’s behaviour was not acceptable. He wanted a relationship of mutual respect and if he could not have this he would leave the company.

Q was shocked, blustered a bit, became defensive but eventually said he was sorry. He has been much more supportive and listened much more since. It is too early to tell if he has changed his approach to the other people he manages, but we think he may.

P took half an hour to tell me about the conversation and was totally elated about how well it had gone and how wonderful it felt to be “real”

Tools, ideas and exercises to enable authenticity

Seven-column analysis -congruence and assumptions

The analytical tool, seven-column analysis, can help people understand what is going on in any relationship. It is very good for picking up conflicts between the words people say and the feelings they have. If I say, “I am NOT ANGRY!!” while raising my voice and clenching my fist, you are unlikely to believe the words, or be confused. If I say, “I feel hurt and upset”, with a smile, you won’t know what to believe.

Effective communication is congruent, the words and the “music”, (gestures, posture, volume, tone of voice) all support each other. If you see old friends greeting each other with a “How nice to see you!” an excited tone of voice and an enthusiastic hug, you will observe congruent communication.

It is hard to think about how to communicate effectively when you are feeling bad. I want to lash out because I am cross or hide my feelings because I feel vulnerable, and just to say what they are, might make me more so. Nevertheless, the most effective thing you can do is to describe how you are feeling directly and not wrap it up or blame the other person. We feel what we feel. You can’t legitimately say, “You ought not to feel that”. Your feelings are real.

Seven-column analysis also picks up assumptions. Unchecked assumptions are completely incompatible with authenticity. You can’t know what drives someone’s behaviour until you have checked your assumptions.

Someone is leaning on you for results. You might assume that she does not care what effect this has on you because she is just an ambitious careerist. However, it could be that she is being leant on by her boss and does not have the confidence to ask you and your colleagues to help her deal with him. She might have an ill child or be in a very difficult relationship, so just passes on the demand because she has no slack to deal with it.

Of course, if she were able to be authentic with you, then you would be more able to respond in a way that was helpful to both of you.


I like to use impromptu role-plays when coaching clients. People can be scared of doing this in advance, so I would usually say, “Can I be “Q” the person you want to influence, and you be you “P””? Just say what you would really like to say to “Q”, if you weren’t being polite and were being very direct.

In practice, most people are far too “polite” and wrap up their demands or feelings so the “Q”‘s can’t hear them. I coach people to express their feelings and demands very directly. They may sometimes choose not to go so far in practice, but being able to is empowering.

I have noticed that role-play can be even more effective if we do this in reverse. So, I take the role of “P” my client and he or she takes the role of “Q” the person “P” wants to influence. Because, I am not personally involved in the situation, I can be extremely direct and the client really hears what he or she wants to say and experiences how powerful it can be to be truly authentic.

A simple model

Levels of human communication

(I learned this at a marriage enrichment retreat but don’t know who is the author.)

1.      Giving or exchanging information

Information is facts or uncontroversial opinions, with no or very little emotional content. This is easy to give and receive.

2.      Judgemental and/or critical

Blaming, attacking, criticising and putting down are all judgemental and/or critical. They are very easy to give and are often done without thinking. They are very difficult to receive constructively and often lead to a defensive or negative reaction.

3.      Sharing feelings

Describing how you feel honestly and openly without blaming or attacking anyone. This can feel very difficult, even frightening as it leaves you feeling vulnerable. It can be disarming and is especially useful in the aftermath of a criticism. (See the fable below)

4.      Solving Problems

This requires people to be willing to share their skills, experience and resources to solve problems and thus make their lives, families, work, teams or organisations happier or more effective. It is almost impossible to do when you are feeling bad.

The fable – this does have some sex role stereotyping, but it is as I heard it and it is meant affectionately!

A woman goes to market and buys a lovely hat. She comes home and says to her husband, who has had a rotten day, “Look dear, I bought this lovely hat, doesn’t it look wonderful!”

Husband says, grumpily, “Hmm, I don’t think much of it, it makes you look frumpy AND I bet it cost a fortune!!”

Wife says nothing, but you can imagine how she feels!

Half an hour later, he says to her, “Look at this, they are doing some really nice packages to Barbados. I have got two weeks due to me next month, shall we go?”

She says, “I like the sound of Barbados, and I could find the time, but I am certainly not going with you!”

Why did she say this? Given her husband criticised her for buying the hat, what could she have done differently afterwards?

Please send me an email with your ideas!

Discussion and example

You can’t go directly to solving problems when you are feeling bad. Sharing feelings can be a very effective bridge.

A client had half a day to work with an IT project team in crisis. There were all sorts of technical and communication problems and everybody appeared fed up. He did not try to solve the problems! He asked everybody in the meeting simply to say how he or she was feeling. After an initial silence, they started to say how fed up and frustrated they were.

After this, they were able to work together to solve the problems that caused their negative feelings. The project was a success.

Next ezines

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Best wishes


If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick