Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video Building authenticity, part of Communication Tips Weekly.
- Authenticity is not a trade you proclaim but a trade you demonstrate. This past summer I took 25 students to Athens as part of a Business Culture of Greece course that I teach for the business school at Indiana university. They met with business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and students of their own age. Perhaps the most significant event from a standpoint of authenticity involved meeting CEO Mr. Nikos. Mr. Nikos runs a major Greek company that exports to over 10 countries in four continents.
Someone in his position could be distant and authoritative, yet he is one of the most authentic people I have ever encountered in my life. To explain what I mean, let me describe the impressions he made on my students. The very first time my students met Mr. Nikos, they were expecting him to talk about his company, but instead of launching into a standard company speech, he took time to walk the aisles and personally greet each student, asking them their name and making sure he pronounced it right.
As you would expect, this got their attention right away. As the evening progressed, he would choose some of the names and describe their Greek origin. I know, I know, very stereotypical, but also very endearing. During conversations, he listened as if the person he was with was the only one in the room and made a point to connect with all the students there as if they were his most valued guests. Later during the dinner, he stood up and made the rounds, striking up conversations on issues he knew the students were interested in.
Mr. Nikos was the greatest Greek ambassador they had ever met. Later, when the Greek music started, Mr. Nikos was the first to get up and dance. He took the hand of students, brought them to the dance floor, and taught them the intricate steps of traditional line dances. Mr. Nikos epitomized authenticity. He was sincere and honest in his words and actions. His personal integrity was evident to all, a combination of factors unique to every person, a mix that reflects their inner self and exudes confidence and trust in others.
Mr. Nikos was the authentic poster child for my students during that trip. There are several aspects of developing your authenticity you need to know and a few cautions as you embark on your journey. To build your authenticity, ask yourself, "How did I get to become the person I am now?" This soul-searching question will focus you to think of your roots, the values that define you, and your personal story. This reflection may include your life experiences, upbringing, and family history.
Yes, it's likely to be time-consuming and anything but easy, but the effort will bring you closer to your true self. Seek genuine feedback from trusted sources, personal and professional. In the workplace, you may have 360 feedback reviews that help you gather information and materials for personal development. Personally, you may ask your close friends and family to share a few words that they feel describe you. Since authenticity is what others see in you, be sure to know what those impressions are and take them seriously, even if they're not flattering.
Engage in personal and professional development activities and trainings that push you towards self-reflection. As award renowned author and speaker Stephen Covey talked about, these are the non-urgent but important activities in life. These development opportunities will help you grow closer to your authentic self. Save the stories. As you travel through life's defining moments, take note of the moments and people that defined who you are today. Was it a childhood event, a lesson from a family mentor, or a memorable experience? Try to identify what value this experience strengthened.
Make it relevant to what your current context is and be ready to recite it when someone says to you, "What defined the person you are today?" After you do your homework in developing your authenticity road map and start to share your true self with everyone around you, keep a few red flags in mind. Avoid sharing too much information. Authenticity involves self-disclosure, but be mindful. Read the external cues your audience is providing you. Don't make the mistake of becoming too comfortable too soon.
I found that when I had young children I ended up being too eager to share baby stories, and I quickly learned that they only resonated with friends who were in a similar point in their lives. Other friends who were disinterested could easily perceive me as being self-indulgent and uninterested in their own situations. Be mindful of context. If you have a hobby that reveals a little too much about who you are or a pastime too far removed from the day-to-day office work, take your time before sharing it, even if it's something you're very proud and excited about.
For an example, I work in the fitness industry and I teach group cycling classes. I have been able to travel all over the world working as a master trainer, but when I began teaching courses in a business school, I deliberately kept a low profile about my fitness activities. As I got comfortable with the people and the culture, I found like-minded people and I self-disclosed strategically. Watch your timing. As you age, you will naturally be more authentic and will find your true self.
If you're new to your career and a junior member of your staff, you want to withhold sharing too much. Unfortunately, age matters in some organizations, and you don't want your weekend activities to dampen your professional credibility. Consider culture. Young or old, be aware of culture. In some high face-saving cultures such as Asian ones, sharing personal stories and anecdotes may make you seem less credible. On the contrary, in other relationship-based cultures such as Mediterranean ones, if you don't disclose anything about your personal life, you may come ascross as being distant and aloof.
Avoid overthinking. Having coached thousands of speakers in my career, I find that authenticity is the number one trust factor for an audience. Speakers that overthink gestures, pauses, and body movements come across as being inauthentic. Being your shoes-off self should come naturally to you like driving a car or brushing your teeth. If it's too much of a mental effort, it will come across as being fake. Mr. Nikos was so impressive to my students because he was an open book of values from the get-go.
If you wanna build your credibility, do your homework and watch for the red flags. Authenticity is about reading a situation and sharing enough of yourself while always being consistent and memorable.
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