The value of authenticity at work

In this digital age we’re living in, where profiles can be artfully tweaked, followers and likes can be bought, photos can be edited and apps rule, it is arguably more important than ever to be yourself.

Being authentic and genuine can help build trust, strengthen relationships and empower others.

Laura Haycock, psychologist at Pearn Kandola business psychology firm, says there are numerous benefits to being true to yourself at work but that some people may feel pressure to fit a certain mould. “There has, for example, been a long term bias towards extravert behaviour in the workplace,” she notes. “People who are confident, outgoing and sociable are often valued more highly, seen as more successful and are often assumed to have more leadership potential.” So natural introverts can feel the need to present a more outgoing and extrovert façade at work.

There are, however, advantages to having a more introverted style. “If an introvert tries to emulate the behaviours of an extraverted leader, there is a risk is that they can lose the very real benefits of their own introverted style,” says Haycock. “Namely: the value of reflection and analysis or being sensitive and considerate of others’ views. In this circumstance the person can try and flex some of the more useful extraverted behaviours but importantly also tap into their own authentic style.”

Whilst expressing personal views and our real thoughts and feelings to our colleagues can be risky and make us feel vulnerable, it can also help us build a stronger rapport and deeper level of trust with them. “When we share something personal, we display trust in others. Assuming what we say is not too extreme or rude, this is likely to encourage others to reciprocate and put their trust in us,” Haycock says.

We do, however, have to be just as tolerant and open to other people’s views in return. “The challenge is being true to oneself whilst continuing to respect others,” says Haycock. “Whilst it is valuable to share your own ideas and thinking and to offer your particular talents and approaches; it is equally valuable that others do the same. This means treating one another with respect and consideration; holding back judgement and blame and creating an environment where it feels safe for others to experiment and to offer alternative perspectives.”

If, however, being true to yourself means expressing your disregard for a certain group of people or way of thinking, it will be counterproductive and take authenticity to a level where it is no longer useful.

Harry Perrin, a solicitor and negotiation specialist currently working in-house in the news and media sector, says employees need to be aware of their principles but that there is no need to shout them from the rooftops. “I think of being authentic at work as meaning having my principles and beliefs close to the surface, and at the forefront of my mind, as I go about my professional life. This does not mean, however, that I do not appreciate or listen to the priorities or preferences of others.”

An appropriate amount of professionalism can help keep you safe and pretending to be something you’re not can be draining and stressful. “If your authentic self and your professional self are too disconnected – if they are too far apart to reconcile without great emotional effort – it is likely to be a source of stress,” Perrin notes.

Essentially, it’s about ‘keeping it real’ and striking a balance between your professional and personal persona. “People can tell if you are ‘putting on a front’ and an overly glossy veneer can be off-putting to colleagues and clients alike,” says Perrin. “It does not convey the message that there is a real person under the suit, and if you are not a real person, how can you be relied upon to make decisions which are reasonable, compassionate, ethical, sensible and human?”

A certain amount of professionalism can, however, be very useful. “If you have a stressful job, taking off your suit and leaving your professional self in the office can help you relax when you get home,” Perrin says.

Moving with the times and keeping an open mind is also essential, says Haycock and we have to evolve to grow. “We all have flexibility in our behaviour and are able to adapt over time to new environments and cultures,” she notes. “This constant evolution is a strength. People who stick rigidly to the views and behaviours they exhibited in their twenties will not benefit themselves or others in the longer term.”

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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