This article about the power of being authentic and the impact we can have just by being ourselves. Being you is much easier than pretending to be someone else but it can be frightening.
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.
Being authentic in a difficult relationship
P had a difficult relationship with her 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 she wanted. He overloaded P with work.
Eventually, Q queried a trivial expenses claim twice and P decided she had had enough! P told Q directly how she felt about the relationship between them, that she felt, hurt sad and angry. She wanted a relationship of mutual respect and if she could not have this she would leave the company.
Q was shocked, blustered a bit, became defensive but eventually said he was sorry.
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
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 and 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.
When you say what you are feeling directly and wait patiently the other party may well say how she or he feels. Now you can have a real and deep conversation and come to a creative conclusion.
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 M the person you want to influence, and you be you N”? Just say what you would really like to say to M 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 M’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 N my client and he or she takes the role of M the person N 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. They may also learn a bit more about what it is like to be the person they want to influence.
The power of sharing feelings
You can’t go directly to solving problems when you are feeling bad. Sharing feelings releases them so they have less power.
A client had half a day to work with an IT project team in crisis. There were all sorts of technical, political and communication problems and everybody was 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 all said just how fed up and frustrated they were. They did not want this to continue and all decided to be more constructive.
After this, they were able to work together to solve the problems and feel good too. The project was a success. Failure would have been very expensive indeed.
Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting is superb on authenticity.