When you think of authenticity, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a sense of honesty about yourself or truthful expression of the ideas in your head. It’s sometimes hard to define, but as a trait of humanity, authenticity is the difference between liking and trusting someone, perhaps.
Authenticity is one of the defining attributes of leadership; a trait people desperately want to see in politicians, and one that eludes most of them because they must please too many constituents. But for the few elected officials who are able to hang onto it, authenticity can bridge the political party divide and endear them to the communities they serve.
While it’s easy for a lot of people to recognize authenticity, defining it is not so easy.
So, what is it?
It’s an awareness of how you show up to people. Authenticity is trusting in your own knowledge and experience, but knowing that there’s more to learn and understand about the world around you; trusting your own perspective, but recognizing the truth in the perspectives of others.
Authenticity is self-confidence without arrogance. It’s knowing your strengths and limitations but retaining ambition to excel beyond where you are today. And it’s healthy skepticism that listens for the truth in others’ experiences.
Authentic people exude an air of trustworthiness that sits below the surface, allowing them to look you in the eye without making you feel uncomfortable or violated.
The authentic people I know don’t have to work at authenticity – it simply happens for them.
Where communication is concerned, authenticity is direct and clear. It invites openness from others and is transparent without violating confidentiality. Authentic people are fully present with others, listening reflectively to their words and silences. They engage in conversation without judgment or confrontation when there is disagreement.
When you talk with someone who is authentic, you don’t sense there’s a hidden agenda. Because authentic people have an uncomplicated relationship with truth, you likely find them to be trustworthy, overall. In fact, they may be so focused on building trust that they don’t notice if you like them.
To illustrate the difference between authentic and not-so-authentic communication, consider the current supply chain situation. You’ve likely heard or seen news about staffing challenges in shipping and transport companies in the US, semiconductor and microchip production shortages abroad, and long port delays at some West Coast ports. In an ABC News interview, the head of the Port of Los Angeles closed his interview by saying, “What you’re seeing is the power of the American consumer on display!”
As he spoke, he took on an effusive, lilting vocal tone and smarmy facial expression. But his spin misaligned with facts. Ships are and have been sitting for weeks in the LA Harbor with no one to transport the cargo. Some large retailers are chartering their own cargo ships using smaller ports so they have products to sell. He distracted attention away from what was happening and suggested this was something to be excited about.
The cost of being inauthentic is high.
In my book, it was a classic example of gaslighting – manipulating you to question reality by diverting your attention. He indicated there was a plan to make the situation better, but his closing statement about “the power of the American consumer” fell flat. His words might have some truth, but he essentially avoided the hard questions. And in doing so, he may have damaged his credibility. In his case, it was easy to see how authenticity is the difference between liking and trusting someone.
So, what’s the takeaway? That’s for you to determine, but I hope you’ll see the importance of authenticity in how you conduct yourself and how you communicate. Maybe you’ll see that owning your actions and words is a strength, even if it means you admit some fault in a situation. Or perhaps you’ll decide it’s time to find better communication tools than the spin.
The question comes down to this: do you want to be liked or trusted? If you want to be trusted, choose authenticity. If you want to be liked, you’ll have to choose something else. That’s why I say authenticity is the difference between liking and trusting someone.