Authenticity is one of those ‘at the moment’ words that gets bandied around and often referred to as ‘being true to yourself’ – but that’s a fairly shallow definition.
From a practical and ‘common sense’ approach, it just makes sense that being authentic allows people to see the ‘real you’… and this is key to them being able to determine the nature of their relationship with you.
But more than this, when we consider what current research from positive psychology reveals about the benefits of being an authentic person, and the benefits of being able to associate with authentic people, authenticity takes on a very significant purpose in our personal and business lives.
In the workplace what the research validates is that being authentic predicts higher levels of work satisfaction. In other words, people who are (even in the limited definition) ‘true to themselves’ tend to be more satisfied and engaged in their work and they tend to be more productive, more autonomous and report lower levels of stress.
So that’s good news on why we ought to be more authentic and for workplaces to create environments where people feel they can be authentic. But just what does that really mean if being ‘true to yourself’ is, as I’ve said, a somewhat shallow definition?
A prolific researcher and presenter on positive psychology, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener outlines three key elements that the research shows are present in authentic people:
1) self-alienation (a person has an accurate self-understanding and communicates this to others)
2) authentic living (behaviour matches the self), and
3) Accepting influence (there is a balance between capitulating to the desires of others and fulfilling social obligations; authentic people are good at distinguishing between these).
Of these three, I think the first two fit into the definition of ‘being true to yourself’, but it is the third, and I believe for many, the most difficult to always achieve, is this notion of being able to find the balance of being true to ourselves, while being constantly challenged to meet or fulfil the demands-wants-needs of others (whether that is in our personal or social lives).
When authenticity becomes sheer arrogance and ego
While it may still be authentic to dig in and live up to what you believe is the right way… the only way, what if you’re wrong? What if there is another or other ways, and your own boundaries of self-belief and beliefs about the way the world ought to be, are blocking you from seeing the world through the eyes and experiences of others?
How does this all impact The Triangle of Three Trusts?
Take a look at the diagram at the top of this post. I refer to this as The Triangle of Three Trusts. While being authentic and true to yourself will certainly provide strong foundations for self-trust and your capacity to select who you can place your trust in (trust-in-others), it is the third trust in the triangle of three trusts where myopic authenticity can be problematic… that is, will others place their trust in you when they may understand you’re just being authentic and living up to your true self and your true beliefs… but when they see that you just won’t come around to seeing their point of view, which will allow them to be authentic, their reluctance to place their trust in you will be at risk.
And as you’ve seen many times on this site… When trust is at risk (whether that’s self-trust, trust in others, or others trusting in you)… Everything is at risk.
So next time you hear a motivational speaker on leadership or self-leadership, or maybe even a colleague or friend refer to the importance of authenticity… remember, it’s more than just being true to yourself.