“Just be authentic!” I’m sure you’ve heard that advice before. Maybe you also know some people, who proudly proclaim that they always like to be authentic and always openly tell people what they are thinking.
There is only one problem with being authentic: It can be highly disrespectful, overly selfish, hurtful even, and, in the end, counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about feeling comfortable and being relaxed and confident. I am talking showing your “true self”, your true character, and always being open about what you really think or how you feel inside. What, Matthias? But isn’t it a person’s right to follow their natural instincts and just be “authentic”?
When you are happy and have a positive story to share, there is nothing wrong with being authentic, of course. But imagine anyone who got out the wrong side of the bed, who is bored, tired, angry, pissed off, or simply a selfish jerk, would always show that. A client would angrily hang up on you in a business call, a public speaker would openly show discomfort and fear, a workshop host would act totally uninterested and indifferent to the people in the room, and a guest at your birthday party would tell everyone that he doesn’t really “like anyone but you in here.”
Being authentic is often understood as being truthful. But as Mark Bowden illustrates in his great TEDxToronto talk on body language and the importance of being inauthentic, while it might be more honest (and easy) to follow your gut instincts, it is counterproductive if you are trying to communicate with the people around you. And in a professional setting, it can even be highly disrespectful of the people you are interacting with. If, for example, people paid and came to see you speak, it would be disrespectful of their time and attention to not even try to make them feel comfortable and create a positive experience. It is the hallmark of the professional that she shows up and gives her best, whatever obstacles might be in her way. And this includes leaving your comfort zone and being a little bit inauthentic whenever it is needed. You owe it to yourself, to the people around you, and to the story you want to tell.
This is the 14th post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.