This is for those of you who take great pride in expressing your thoughts and opinions freely with others. Have you ever been so blunt that the person you’re talking to stares back at you in uncomfortable silence? Or perhaps you value “telling it like it is” but then you edge on being offensive at times? If you’ve ever felt compelled to follow-up your authentic behavioral expression with, “What?! I’m just being authentic!” then please keep reading this.
It’s time to stop and think: What are your intentions when you interact with someone verbally? Is your heart and mind in a positive place, or are you instead being reactive? Is your genuine purpose to be transparent with others, at the cost of all other possibilities?
If “being authentic” is your primary end goal, THINK AGAIN before it’s too late. Being authentic should not just be about valuing your true self so much that authenticity becomes a goal in and of itself – such that you blindly sacrifice other important values or intentions.
I urge you to be highly cautious of those moments when you feel like your best recovery involves adding the phrase “I’m just being authentic!” Why? Because it’s unethical and harmful to be hateful or mean toward others. Period.
Authenticity is not an excuse to be careless with your words. Passive aggressive or overtly aggressive authentic expression doesn’t automatically qualify you for being in the right. Rather, in the spirit of being ethical and “loving your neighbor as yourself,” effective and fruitful authentic expression should begin and end with the purposeful intention to be loving and caring toward others. Always.
If you don’t prefer the moral argument above, then let’s examine what you personally have to lose by enacting authentic expression poorly. In those defensive “I’m just being authentic!” moments, BEWARE; you could blindly be sacrificing the following for yourself:
Your authority – If you’re turning people off such that they genuinely start to dislike you, then they’ll probably lose respect for you and stop listening in moments when they perceive they can afford to ignore what you have to say. Or if “just being authentic” means that you’re frequently spewing your personal vulnerabilities to others, you’ll likely lose credibility or trust from them in the long run. Don’t risk sabotaging your ability to lead others in the name of “just being authentic.” Instead, strive to communicate honestly with others while practicing healthy boundaries that preserve respect and trust along the way.
Your ability to genuinely connect with different types of people – “Just being authentic” usually works most effectively (i.e., communicates a message without resulting in interpersonal damage) when the person on the receiving end of your message is similar to you and trusts you. For example, perhaps you’ve been close friends for years, share common backgrounds, have the same core values, or feel similarly about a difficult issue. In that case, you’re already connected and you have a foundation of safety and trust to work from. But, in other instances, if “just being authentic” leads to alienating others or overlooking people who are unlike you, then when you communicate too freely you may be hindering your ability to find common ground, to influence, and to win people over. Strong leaders understand the value of reshaping their message for individuals and audiences who are different from them, and they consistently work to realize greater opportunities for connection and influence.
Your development – Each time you stop thinking about your behavior immediately after you’ve “just been authentic,” you’re missing out on important learning material for yourself. If you are so comfortable in your own skin that you aren’t open to others’ feedback or perspectives, then your satisfaction with being yourself could be inhibiting your ability to grow. Leaders who practice authenticity are willing to question who they truly are at their core, and they don’t settle once they feel like they’ve achieved self-mastery. Instead, they view self-mastery as a journey that requires continuous personal growth and, sometimes, the redefinition of self as part of that growth.
Instead of falling into the “I’m just being authentic!” trap, think deeply about your core values and purpose, and let clear intentions guide your behavior. Work hard to communicate effectively with others about what is true to you, especially in times of conflict. As you move through your workday, may “being authentic” be your trusty gateway to obtain something greater, and to care for yourself and others. And may you strive to practice “being authentic” in service of a value higher than personal authenticity in and of itself.
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