“Authenticity–The quality of being genuine or not corrupted from the original. Truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, and intentions.” Source: Wiktionary
Authenticity. What is it, who is doing it well and how do we make it work for us in the business world? Attempts at building business relationships that lack authenticity can often feel contrived. When approached by people lacking in authenticity, we may likely feel used and simply a vehicle for the other person to achieve their business objectives. This is networking and selling at its worst.
We must own our behavior. Every action we take with regards to relationships in the business world is intentional. On some level, we likely know what we are doing, but may not always consider the impact of our actions or the repercussions on our clients or co-workers. Do we come across as givers or takers? Authentic or fake?
As we continue to adapt to an ever-changing economy, it is critical that we challenge the fear that somehow being authentic is a bad thing. It may be uncomfortable and create some opposition in the short term from individuals not used to it. However, practicing candor, transparency, engaging in honest and open dialogue, and always placing our principles and ethics before advancing our career or pursuing short term financial gain will bring us more meaningful success in every aspect of our lives, not just in business. I have seen the positive fruits of this in my own life and the lives of countless other business leaders.
Let’s invest time in getting to know our colleagues, clients and future clients. Learn about their personal interests, their families and share similar information with them. Keeping our work and personal lives separate is inherently unhealthy, yet many of us have been trained from an early age to leave the personal stuff out of workplace conversations.
For those of us with external or internal client facing roles, don’t we desire to build trust and develop long-term client relationships? The solution is to be ourselves and not an artificial version of ourselves. Get them to view us as real people and not vendors. The payoff? Long-term relationships and increased revenue from a group of loyal clients who value our service or product offering and, dare I say it, our friendship.
How will we know how much we should share in the business world? Are there any boundaries? Authenticity, when guided by prudent judgment and discretion, is always a fundamentally positive approach to successfully building trusting client relationships. Sharing everything about our lives may not always be appropriate based on the situation, but not sharing anything is also the wrong answer. Strike a balance and use good judgment.
OBSTACLES TO AUTHENTICITY
Let’s address some of the obstacles that may prevent us from being authentic. I am making a base assumption that you agree with me on some level that authenticity is important and that many of us have a desire to be more open, transparent and genuine. I also believe that deep down, most of us want to achieve greater authenticity in the workplace where we spend so much of our lives. In my opinion, here are some of the obstacles that inhibit our authenticity:
- Lack of self-awareness. Do we even know there’s a problem?
- Fear of people not liking who we truly are. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of being judged. Fear of being passed over for a promotion because we don’t fit the corporate mold.
- Lack of confidence in our opinions. Lack of faith in our convictions. Lack of courage to defend the truth.
- Attachment to an income level and lifestyle that requires unhealthy compromise
- Conforming to society’s march towards political correctness, universal tolerance and acceptance of things which are in direct conflict with our faith, values and principles.
- Falsely believing that presenting our generic or “fake” selves in the workplace is the only path to success.
- Role models, mentors and candid friends are lacking who can show us the right approach and help us improve in this area.
This list may be as painful for you to acknowledge as it is for me to write, or you may have a different list. The points raised may be unsettling, but confronting them is necessary if we are to pursue and embrace a more authentic life.
ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF AUTHENTIC BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
These nine approaches, when practiced with greater intention and applied to the business arena, can provide opportunities for us achieve more authentic business relationships.
Pay it Forward
“What can I do to help you?” is absolutely one of the best ways to get business relationships off to a great start. Invest in the other person first, with no expectation of return. Do not keep score. Simply make the investment and over time you will benefit from the seeds of generosity you have planted.
Candor in business is becoming a lost art. Too often we dance around difficult subjects or make politically correct statements in order to avoid conflict, hurting someone’s feelings or putting our careers at risk. This fear of candor is pervasive and unnecessary. Candor is NOT a bad thing. Sharing our honest thoughts in a direct, courteous and professional manner is a gift to the recipient! One suggestion is to ask the other person for permission to be candid. Once permission is given (and it always is), we have an opportunity to help the other person grow, develop and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. This approach works with bosses, peers, friends, strangers …everyone.
Transparency invites Transparency
Meeting someone for the first time? Not sure what to say? Do you desire a meaningful conversation about real issues and not the usual surface or politically correct dialogue? Be transparent first. Get personal. If we desire someone to open up to us, we should be open about our lives first. In effect, this gives the other person “permission” to be open about non-work related topics if we take the first step in sharing.
One of the best ways to begin earning trust with someone is to be humble. I have observed through personal experience that the hidden walls which normally exist during an encounter with a new person begin to fade away after mentioning that we “don’t have all the answers” or “we made a mistake.” Another key component is to do what we say we will do with new clients or business contacts. Follow up, follow through and be humble – these are essential actions critical to earning trust in a business relationship.
Consistency and Dependability
Be the same person at all times. Don’t change views and opinions to suit different audiences. Don’t gossip and talk about others behind their backs. If we won’t speak the truth to someone, we should remain silent. Become known as a person who will keep their word and can be depended upon in difficult situations.
Be insatiably curious about others. Learn and remember personal things about others like spouse and kid names, hobbies, interests and birthdays. Open-ended questions like “What did you do this weekend?” or “What are you doing for vacation this summer?” can be a great way to begin. Remember that people find you more interesting when you ask them questions. Stuck on knowing the perfect thing to say? Ask questions! Authenticity is greatly enhanced by mutual sharing and sharing thrives in an atmosphere of curiosity.
Good listening skills are essential to authentic business relationships. Show a genuine interest in others, ask good questions and patiently listen. Take notes of important information being shared for use in future conversations. We are often so focused on our own agendas that we forget to listen and learn from the other person.
Affinity Based Connecting
Serviam Partners understands that many professionals are to some degree, introverts. The idea of going to a networking event to meet 100 professionals can be emotionally draining or even frightening. We have long advocated for a different approach: affinity-based connecting. Identify what you have in common with a new or potential business contact (i.e. schools, worked for same company, hobbies, etc.) through LinkedIn or Google research and utilize this shared affinity to build a more meaningful business relationship over coffee or lunch versus the often fruitless exercise of collecting dozens of business cards you will never call.
Mutual Respect and Civility
We have seen an appalling lack of mutual respect and civility in conversations involving politics, religion and other sensitive issues over the last several years. If you desire to authentically share your views around sensitive topics and learn the views of others, then try to be respectful. Be civil. Seek to understand. Keep anger out of it. Politely debate ideas. Learn to make a good argument and calmly defend your ideas/positions while keeping an open mind. I may be a voice in the wilderness on this issue, but we have to do better.
I am sharing this from my perspective as a father, husband, person of faith and business owner who is very involved in the community. You may have different perspectives and views, but I believe anyone can find value in what I am sharing. Maybe we should stop thinking that holding differing views on important subjects or resisting the expectations of the surrounding culture is somehow a bad thing. In the business world, we should all seek the freedom to no longer sacrifice our uniqueness and who we truly are on the altar of political expediency.
After you read this post, please consider if you are being authentic to those around you. Let’s set a good example for others by being unafraid to be our true selves. Remember that a lifetime of little compromises at work eventually adds up to an overwhelming denial of who we really are. What is required of us is not easy, but necessary if we want to change the paradigm around business relationships. Our acts of authenticity in the workplace, exercised with prudence and good judgment, can dramatically improve the quality of business conversations, unleash hidden potential and potentially improve business results.
With confidence and a sense of purpose, let’s all try to be a little more authentic today.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Randy Hain is the president of Serviam Partners, the award-winning author of seven books, an executive coach, leadership consultant and a thought leader on business relationships. He is also the co-founder of The Leadership Foundry.