There is a lot of talk these days about authenticity. We are encouraged to embrace and embody it everywhere we turn. We are attracted to people seen to embody authenticity, and we can tell if someone is not being authentic, or disingenuous. The former builds trust and connection and the latter erodes the same.
Authenticity is simply being true to one’s own personality, spirit, and/or character even in the face of external pressures. Circumstances often pressure us to conform even if we don’t think it is in our best interest, and the person who exhibits authenticity stands out.
At the same time, authenticity can be a two-edged sword. A few of the main disadvantages of authenticity are:
- It relies on the strength of your personality and character for its impact, and people don’t always have a strong and positive character. Someone with questionable character can cause serious problems if he/she is adamant about doing something his/her way.
- Hopefully people continue to grow. Relying on what you are now can preclude that growth and keep you trapped. Remaining open to new experiences and what you can learn from them benefits you in the long run.
- Some circumstances may not be amenable to an authentic response. Especially in the business world, it can create conflict and/or dysfunction. This too is a place where it benefits you to remain open to new experiences and what you can learn from them.
As with so many aspects of life, it pays to pick your battles. Before you plant your feet, ask yourself what the might be the best response for the situation:
- What would serve both you and those around you best? Look for the win-win alternative.
- Did you present your position to the fullest? If you are at odds with others, it is up to you to sell your ideas.
- What would the moral “high road” look like? If your authenticity might raise ethical or moral questions, reconsidering your stance might be a good idea.
- Is the situation one you are willing to fail for? Ask yourself if it is worth losing your job, being side-lined or being ostracized.
- What are your other options? If you are not well aligned with those around you, you might look at how strongly you believe in your position. You might decide you can drop into the background and allow others to direct the way forward. You might look at whether you would be better off in a different environment altogether.
Any time you stand on authenticity it is a good idea to check your ego and use the experience for learning and continued growth. Michael Schrage recently wrote about the harm authenticity can cause in the Harvard Business Review. He clearly showed some of the potential costs.
What does this have to do with respect and civility? As always, you are well served be respecting yourself, including staying true to who you are. You are also well served to remain respectful of others, understanding that there will always be differing opinions. Embrace both and grow.