Authenticity: A Closer Look
The past few years there has been an increased focus in our culture on genuineness, authenticity, and vulnerability – for people in general, but specifically for leaders in the workplace. Like most movements, the call for a return to being truly ourselves in our interactions with others is a needed one.
For far too long, we have focused more on image and looking good rather than building substance, true character and competence in our lives. While the pursuit of looking like we have it together is not new, the intensity has been magnified through social media (“likes” on Facebook, becoming an “influencer” based solely on the number of followers you have regardless of any skill, ability or knowledge base).
So . . . yes, we do need to be more genuine and authentic with one another. But, the other truism of most movements is that the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction, and some people blindly push the principle to an absurd extreme.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the case when discussing authenticity, genuineness and vulnerability — concepts that are closely intertwined. I believe you should NOT be fully open, authentic, genuine and vulnerable with everyone you meet or work with, or in every social setting, all the time. Sharing all of “who you are,” your background, mistakes, weaknesses is unsafe and asking for trouble.
We live and work in a society where some individuals don’t think before they speak, only care about themselves, are willing to use others for personal gain, have poor judgment (especially about boundaries and social appropriateness), or are just mean. Sharing fully and openly with these types of individuals provides significant opportunities to be hurt and taken advantage of. Be careful and use judgment with whom you share your inner thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, being “authentic” doesn’t mean you have the right to do or say whatever you want (“I am who I am – you just need to accept me”) when that includes being abrasive, condescending, demeaning, crude, irreverent or vulgar. Sometimes people need to keep their thoughts to themselves. And, no, I don’t have to “accept you as you are” if who you are and how you behave are damaging to me or others. You may have the “right” to act that way, but I don’t have to accept it or expose myself, my colleagues, friends or family to your ongoing damaging way of relating to others. I choose to protect myself and those around me.
What, then, is authenticity for?
Authenticity is an important foundational characteristic for building relationships between trusting (and trustworthy) individuals who desire to build a healthy, supportive relationship. Without authenticity, the relationship is built between two facades of individuals – the images of who they portray they are – and neither person is truly “known” (accepted, understood, appreciated or loved). But authenticity outside of the context of trust and safety is risky, and exposes those openly sharing of themselves to be wounded, either intentionally or unintentionally (the wounding and resulting pain occurs in either situation).
At Appreciation at Work, when we advocate for communicating “authentic appreciation”, we are calling people to truly value and appreciate their colleagues (versus “acting like” they appreciate them). When leaders and co-workers struggle to appreciate those with whom they work, we don’t want them to try to “fake it.” We work to help individuals explore characteristics that they can truly value in one another – and then learn how to communicate their appreciation authentically and effectively.
Authenticity with trust and safety, based within truth provides the foundation for a healthy, meaningful relational experience with others.
Categories 5 Languages of Appreciation, Appreciation, Authenticity, Communication, Managing By Appreciation, Relationships, Workplace Culture