Authenticity, How Much Is Too Much?

Cabaret
Liza Minelli and Michael York in the movie, Cabaret (1972).

We all like to deal with people who are honest in their interactions with us; people who show us their authentic self. Right? Well, in moderation. 

Too Much Authenticity

The first office I had in Madrid was located above a shoe store. One day I bought a pair of booties and, back in the office, my assistant wanted to see them. I opened the box and she said, “Oh! They’re very… new!” Although I hadn’t asked for her opinion, she let me know she didn’t like the shoes. She was just being authentic.

More recently, a woman confessed, at a female leadership session, that her boss gets upset because she interrupts him. The interaction goes like this, as per her account: while the boss is explaining a process, she says, “Ok, got it,” and she prepares to leave. Then the boss says, “How do you know?” “Because I’m five steps ahead of you, I don’t need to hear the rest of what you have to say,” she replies. She’s being authentic, right?

First of all, she’s being rude. Second, how can she be so sure that she knows? And third, wouldn’t there be a more tactful, smarter way to let the boss know she understands and that a more succinct explanation would do?

Self-Awareness

In 2011 I attended the Annual Symposium of the Voice Foundation in Philadelphia. One evening after the sessions, my friend and I went shopping. I got a very nice top and I decided to wear it that night–we were meeting four other scientists, all men, for dinner.

We sat at a large, round table, and it was difficult to hear one another, so we all had to lean forward quite a bit. At a certain point, I was having a conversation with the editor of a British research journal sitting across the table when I realized that my new top was too low-cut and revealing.

I immediately recognized that that was not the kind of impression I wanted to cast. I didn’t want to appear like I was using the low-cut trick to manipulate the man in order to have my paper published.

Even though I find the top very cute, I’ve never worn it for work. That night in Philly I became fully aware of how a woman’s dress impacts not only how other people perceive her but also how they feel. That night, my conversation partner was visibly uncomfortable until the moment I put my hand over the neck of my shirt.

Self-Restrain

When a friend of mine quit smoking, someone asked him how he’d made it. My friend replied: “I just don’t light a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.” The other man, a smoker, insisted, “But how? How can you resist the temptation?” My friend bluntly answered, “The same that I don’t jump on top of my 25-year-old hot female intern. I restrain myself because it’s what I have to do.”

At Templar, we advise our clients that authenticity is key to succeed in their interactions with their own clients. Of course, we mean a self-aware, self-restricted authenticity.

Intelligent authenticity requires that you be mindful of how your actions affect the people you interact with.

Be aware of the aspects of your behavior, communication, and appearance that may press other people’s buttons and avoid them unless you want to trigger a specific reaction.

And keep in mind that what we perceive is what we believe to be true. If the British researcher thought I was trying to manipulate him by showing him too much, in his mind, I would forever be that woman who didn’t trust her research abilities and had to use other “persuasion” tools to get what she wanted.

Be authentic but be smart.

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