‘Be authentic!’ is a buzzword in these chaotic times. But what does it actually mean?
In my experience, there are at least three layers of authenticity; each with implications for the quality of connection, relationship, and collaboration.
1. “Automatic pilot authenticity”:
I say what that which spontaneously comes up for me in any given situation.
This is many people’s idea of authenticity: you speak your mind, without any filters. And often without any attention to consequences.
‘You are a jerk/lazy/unreliable’. ‘This project sucks.’ ‘Enough! I’m done with you.’
It’s quick; authentic; relieving. At least for the person speaking.
Those on the receiving side might have a very different experience. Receiving such a message feels like a blow to the relationship; diminishing trust and motivation to collaborate. A high price to pay.
Their automatic response could be: ‘Who’s the real jerk here?! It was because of your negativity that every decent person on this project left …’, or ‘I’m done with you - it’s such a waste of my energy to be even listening to you.’ – express either aloud or in their head.
As they say: people won’t remember what you said – but how they felt around you. No wonder if they’ll seek ways to minimise contact with this kind of ‘authentic speakers’.
2. “‘I’ authenticity”
Another layer of authenticity is sharing how something has impacted you – rather than what is wrong with the other or with the situation at hand. Nonviolent communication (NVC) approach offers a four-step guidance of how to express yourself in a way that enhances the chances of fostering connection; no matter how intense or conflictual the situation is.
The four steps include
(1) stating an observation - what happened that you want to speak about,
(2) how this action impacted you - in terms of feelings/emotions;
(3) what universal human needs matter to you in this situation, and
(4) your request/proposal how to proceed.
(1)‘When I hear ‘This won’t work’ within seconds after an idea is shared, (2) I get concerned, (3) because I’d like to explore its potential before any decision is taken. (4) Would it be OK for you if we spend 15 minutes exploring the ideas shared - before we decide which ones to develop, and which ones to ditch?
This is also authentic self-expression. The crucial difference is that I am speaking about me - not about the other person.
For most people, this deeper layer of authenticity invites extra intention and attention. It is not what we have been – in our competitive cultures - socialised into. It invites us to pause before responding, shift perception, and respond from deeper humanity.
While it takes more energy in the moment to do so, it usually saves a lot of extra troubles in the long term. The other person will more likely hear me when I sincerely share my inner world - rather than throw judgments about the others. It may however be a first step towards re-connection and healthy collaboration.
3. What if my most authentic self is not who I am right now; but who I long to be?
Yet there is even a deeper layer of authenticity that goes beyond verbal expression. It is the inner dialogue that I constantly nurture with myself: who do I long to be – even if I don’t have the full capacity to manifest it in any given moment? How do I want to show up in life? And ultimately: what wants to live through me?
My answer at this moment: I long to be humble, soft, compassionate; wondering about the deeper story that wants to be revealed. This is what my whole being longs for; my true authenticity at this point of life (knowing that the answer is ever-evolving).
I am super aware that this is not how I show up in most of my interactions; either with myself or others. I am often more abrupt; hard; and judgmental than what I (or others!) would enjoy.
And when I realise I do not live up to my deepest longings, it’s yet another call to practice humility, softness, compassion; and wonder about the deeper story that wants to be revealed ;-)
This exploration brings an extra gift: knowing who I long to be with because we inspire and encourage each other to be our most authentic selves.
What if the tribe is not those who are doing similar stuff or show up in similar ways - but who long to live similar qualities?
Our ‘shared home’ is that vast land of the qualities that deeply speak to us. That’s where we meet. Welcome.