One of the biggest business buzzwords today is “authenticity.” After centuries of simply hiring people to complete tasks, organizations are inviting them to bring more of themselves—their personalities, emotions, humor, style—to work.
What’s driving this trend? Studies say the more you can be yourself at work, the higher your job satisfaction, level of engagement and performance. Customers like being served by people who are genuine and relaxed, not scripted.
Millennials, especially, want authentic workplaces and leaders. Used to sharing their feelings on social media without fear of judgment, they are less interested than previous generations in conforming for it’s own sake and hiding their individuality.
The cost of “self suppression”
But empowering authenticity is not easy. Half of the respondents in a Deloitte study reported “covering” part their identity to fit in at work. Professionals of color, women and LGBT workers were most wary of “being themselves” and more concerned with following unwritten rules about appearance and behavior.
We all express ourselves in different ways based on the situation, and every one can be a genuine expression of who we are. But if you start to feel you must always wear a mask, it can damage your spirit, enthusiasm and even physical health.
Your employer suffers too. As author David Whyte says, the part of ourselves we leave in the car when we go into the office each morning is often the most passionate, courageous and deepest part of ourselves. What if we felt safe to offer all of who we are to our work?
The FISH! Philosophy can help you create a workplace that embraces authentic conversations and actions. Here are four tips to help:
Be There: Genuine concern, genuine action
When people think of being authentic, they think of sharing who they are. For every person who shares, there must be at least one who listens. Be There is about genuinely paying attention to people and responding when they need you.
Sharing personal stories builds familiarity, but being there builds trust. It starts when one person reaches out to another. It may be listening empathetically or offering encouragement. It may mean lending a hand when they are overwhelmed.
Being there is one of the most powerful ways to show who you are. That’s how strong relationships are built.
Make Their Day: Ask “What do you think?”
Authentic leaders are confident and honest, willing to admit they don’t know all the answers. They make it a habit to ask people for opinions and ideas. Besides providing the team with more ideas, it makes people feel valued and fuels their enthusiasm. It also is a great way to Make Their Day.
The most authentic workplaces of the future will be the most diverse. That includes gender, race, age and culture, but it also means varied thought and perspectives. When people from different backgrounds come together, it often results in radically new solutions (the kind that don’t come from people who think alike).
As you build a diverse workforce, find diverse ways to recognize people for the unique contributions they make to help the team or a customer. It always feels good to be appreciated for who you are.
Choose Your Attitude: Know your impact
When you are angry or stressed, it may feel “authentic” to lose your temper, yell or put people down. People often justify their behavior by saying, “That’s just me!”
But is it? Johnny Yokoyama, the owner of Pike Place Fish Market, was an overbearing, intimidating, often angry boss. He got that way, he told us, because “That’s how my father raised me.” Johnny realized his actions were hurting his business, his employees and himself. That wasn’t who he wanted to be, so he decided to change.
Real authenticity requires self-awareness. It means knowing who you want to be, what your values are, how you express yourself and how that impacts others.
Feedback—from colleagues, from those you lead—is essential. They see you in ways you cannot see yourself. When you’re used to reacting in certain ways, these observations can feel like a threat to your identity. Choose Your Attitude and accept their feedback with gratitude. They are helping you to become a better you.
Play: Learn and grow
Sometimes “staying true” to yourself is an excuse for sticking with what you know. But our identities evolve throughout the many stages of our lives.
Life is about learning and growing. It demands change. To be the best version of you, you must be willing to stretch yourself, learn new skills and try new, even more effective styles of working with and relating to people.
It takes a Playful mindset, and a little courage, to experiment with new ways of “being you”. Use feedback to decide where to start. Set realistic goals. If you’re most comfortable talking, listen more. Ask people you trust to let you know how you’re doing. Be comfortable with failing sometimes. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.
Learning is the best way to find the “real” you.