There seems to be a big difference between the way you behave at work on Monday compared to your behavior when you attended happy hour with your colleagues the Friday before. At happy hour, you found yourself telling shocking autobiographical stories, cracking jokes, and venting about work policies that seem frivolous.
Would you behave similarly once you return to work on Monday morning? It’s easy to say that being your casual, non-work self in your work environment would likely be challenging. That’s because the office setting abounds with professional norms to follow and work roles to embody.
Nevertheless, many of us still desire to show up more fully in our workplaces. In order to bring our authentic selves to our professions, we must put some of the work on ourselves – that is, loosen up and accept who we truly are. Consciously and subconsciously, we often consider the consequences of deviating from professional expectations and norms. Do you feel safe pushing the envelope a bit to be more of the authentic you?
A study on authenticity in the workplace is being conducted by Dr. Taylor Peyton Roberts, Co-Founder of Valencore Consulting, and her colleagues (full disclaimer here: I am one of them!). Approximately 670 participants from around the world offered candid written responses to the following question: What three conditions most make you feel as though you cannot be fully authentic with others? People of different ages, genders, and international backgrounds responded, and they described various reasons as to why they felt unable to be themselves within their work environments. Data analysis is currently in progress, but so far, four common barriers to being authentic have emerged. Let’s dig into these now.
What, according to our study, matters most to average workers as they navigate the daily challenges to being authentic? What is it that we’re really striving for?
Fitting the mold.At times, our work environments may pressure us to conform. We might feel the need to dress exactly as our colleagues do. We might fear what would happen if we questioned norms and traditions. We might be terrified of losing our job or being overlooked for a promotion if we were to express a divergent opinion. However, part of being a valuable team player involves speaking your mind in moments when it counts the most. Think carefully about where your values and opinions differ from your workgroup or organization, and consider what you’re willing to stand up for, and what you’re willing to let go. If you feel like an outlier – don’t be ashamed. Outliers add creative diversity to work environments and can inspire others to be innovative.
Building trust.We may not trust others enough to expose our true selves. It’s normal to think, “What if I divulge too much about myself – can I trust others with that information? Will I be judged?” We need to be careful of clamming up and staying distant from others for too long, however. Because when we tell ourselves for the long-term that it’s much safer just to get through the workday simply doing the work and keeping conversations relatively neutral, we risk not making genuine connections with those around us. When we’re not connected to the people we see every day, work can start to feel meaningless.
Familiarity with the situation. In social situations where we have a lack of familiarity with others, we tend to hold back our true selves. We’re unlikely to be vulnerable to strangers. In new situations, we test the waters. We each have different ways of entering into unfamiliar terrain, so we may stay safe by hiding our authentic selves from others at first. Over-compensation for the true self is natural while monitoring behavior in a novel setting. For instance, an eccentric person may initially be highly cautious of scaring others off with their unusual personality. Or the reclusive person might at first participate enthusiastically in ice-breakers so they don’t come off as aloof. So, be patient with yourself in new situations, and take the time to build relationships while communicating your preferred way of being.
Getting it “right.”Competence, or perceived incompetence, around our work role and our ability to do challenging work can be paralyzing and can stifle the true self from showing up fully. Many of us take work seriously, but often this leaves little room to play or risk making mistakes. Authentic desires for spontaneity and creativity may be jeopardized when we concentrate too much on performance metrics and developing technical skillsets. The key is being well-trained and remaining confident in your abilities, while also feeling free to experiment and have a little fun!
More now on why this matters: Authenticity isn’t about feeling free to use vulgar language or wearing your favorite rock n’ roll band t-shirt to work when you’re in the mood for that. It’s about knowing your core self and offering it to others so you can increase your sense of well-being and purpose each day, inspire others to be authentic, and ultimately serve others from a place of genuine care.
Once you share “true” (and sometimes vulnerable) aspects of yourself, others will be tempted to follow suit, and eventually your workplace will become a lot more enjoyable. Being authentic isn’t always comfortable or possible, especially in organizations that are very hierarchical or operate under strong cultural norms. However, you may be surprised at how bringing your authentic self forward can cultivate a safe environment for communication, enhance the quality of relationships, and invite developmental opportunities for you and your team.
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