The Online Etymological Dictionary breaks down the word “authentic” into its two Greek roots: autos, meaning “self”, and hentes, meaning “doer”. Authenticity is “self doing.” Practicing authenticity is practicing being yourself. A self doer isn’t masquerading as someone else or presenting a false self to the world, they are comfortable enough in their own skin to simply exist inside of it.
This doesn’t mean that an authentic person must be pigeonholed into being the same predictable thing all the time. An authentic self is very diverse and complex, and different facets of one’s personality may come out in different contexts. Being an authentic person also does not necessarily mean that someone always has to wear their heart on their sleeves. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, professor Herminia Ibarra reminds us that “being authentic doesn’t mean that you can be held up to the light and people can see right through you.”1 In the workplace, unreserved vulnerability can actually damage your credibility or make you vulnerable in unhealthy ways. So, if being true to yourself doesn’t mean always being the same way or always letting everyone know everything that you’re feeling, what does it actually mean?
Authenticity is in Communication
Being authentic is deeply linked with how you communicate with others. There are no disguises or false fronts in authentic communication. Jeff Wiers, a senior researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, describes the difference between authentic and pseudo-communication. Authentic communication is using language – including body language – to communicate and engage in a meaningful or purposeful way.2 Pseudo-communication, on the other hand, is doing the bare minimum to communicate something with a desired outcome or response in mind (for example, a student who gives “the right” answer to get approval from the teacher). In our school systems and work, we are often trained to communicate in a procedural way with a desired outcome in mind. This results-driven communication tends to reinforce inauthenticity, with disastrous results.
The Benefits of Authentic Communication
Practicing authenticity, on the other hand, strengthens almost every aspect of personality and increases your ability to connect in meaningful ways. There are a host of benefits to strengthening your authentic communication, among the benefits are:
- Building social emotional learning
Genuine engagement during communication builds emotional empathy and increases your understanding of others. By applying purposed presence to every interaction, you are building your capacity to be emotionally engaged and you strengthen your ability to empathize and engage with a wider range of people.
- Discovering your identity
Being a true-to-yourself communicator opens your ability to learn new things about yourself as you intentionally try to meet people where they are while you communicate. By engaging with people with different backgrounds and perspectives, you will discover parts of yourself you may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore.
- Increasing your knowledge
Being actively engaged during a conversation sets your mind up for learning. Being meaningfully invested in an exchange with someone increases your ability to retain the information that is being shared, and enhances your ability to remember the conversation and the content being discussed. By practicing authentic communication, you can learn from every social exchange you have.
Train your Mind
Treat your communication skills like you would a muscle group. Just like your muscles, you can train to strengthen your ability to communicate authentically. It takes practice. In order to communicate authentically as you run a business meeting in front of your peers, you need to invest time in a low stakes environment so you can train up to the more demanding challenges.
Improv is a wonderful platform for practicing and strengthening your authentic communication. Applied improvisation allows adults to explore and develop communication skills and techniques in a safe, welcoming, low-stakes environment. Playing is just as important to learning for adults as it is for children. Dr. White, an MD who worked and clowned with Patch Adams, has found that – simply by playing – adults can rekindle youthful excitement and rediscover their intimacy.3 Play in the context of improv can massively impact your ability to practice radical self acceptance and connect with anyone through habitual authenticity.
Christiana Frank is a consultant, speaker, coach, and program developer. For over 21 years, she has been helping corporate teams, educational institutions, and mental health facilities grow their organization, connect with their clients, and engage the world at large. Christiana’s passion is to meet her clients’ needs and embed her expertise into their existing methodologies, thereby creating stronger, healthier systems. Along with her team of experts, Christiana ensures the growth and success of every client by embracing all perspectives and cultural differences. For a free consult, or to bring Christiana and her team to you, please email [email protected]