Have you abandoned Kindness in your quest for Authenticity?
Authenticity. To be authentic is apparently nowadays a highly desirable way to operate in the world. To be authentic is an elusive yet very impactful way to lead, accordingly to HR directors and executive recruiters across the globe. To be able to be authentic is seen as key to enjoying fulfilling relationships and vital to feeling a sustainable sense of emotional balance. But what is it to be authentic? How do we do it? How do we juggle it with keeping people happy, with maintaining friendships, and with actually staying employed? And what is it not?
Recently I’ve witnessed people fall off their authenticicty pedestals and also abandon kindness or compassion in the mix, and as a result I’ve asked myself this question more and more. How can we communicate authentically and purposefully, so we feel true and aligned with our beliefs and feelings, without acting cruelly and causing pain for someone else.
Here’s a guide based on what I’ve observed from many years in a corporate career, from what I’ve officially learnt through training and working full time as a coach and therapist, and from the insights which have fallen softly in to my awareness over the last few years of my own daily meditation practice.
The irony is, that it seems ( if feedback was ever to be believed ) I was pretty consistently credited with the authenticity badge right from the early years of my career. Yet in reality, I know that whilst I was probably rarely knowingly inauthentic, only the last few years have I made a more honest acquaintance with my own self….never mind dared or cared to share it with others.
So let’s start with a brief definition. Here when I’m talking about authenticity I mean expressing yourself honestly, expressing yourself in a way which really reflects how you feel about something.
Let’s just linger on the ‘how you feel’ part of that sentence a little longer. That’s the important part. We’ll be coming back to that later.
So should we be navigating some sort of territory, some grey, ill defined border between speaking our own authentic truth on the one hand and blatantly abusing the honesty card on the other – as an ill considered license to just say whatever the heck we want, with little or no regard for the welfare of others?
Well in the spirit of authenticity at this point I’m going to answer yes to that. That’s my current opinion. It is only my opinion. And it would have been an uncomfortable opinion for me to hear about 10 years ago, when my own personal brand of communication was what was politely called ‘cutting’, but in reality it often took the form of character assassination – in the name of ‘authenticity’.
If, like the old me, you are tempted to be brutally honest and your ‘authenticity’ is giving you the green light to go ahead without any regard for the welfare of others, you may be fooling yourself.
Can we express our opinions authentically in ways which benefit, instead of harm others?
Firstly, let’s remember that what true authenticity really is. Back to the ‘how you feel’ comment above.
Authenticity is a sharing of YOU, a sharing of your feelings and your vulnerabilities.
Many people, just like the old me, are completely bypassing their own feelings – either on purpose because the they don’t feel comfortable to share them – or by accident because they are so stressed, so routinely distracted from their feelings by their mental analysis or by what their ego wants them to portray – that they do not know or express their true feelings at all!
Authenticity is about you. It will sound something like this: ‘I feel alone / judged / compared / under attack / singled out / threatened / scared / out of control / ashamed……’. You get the gist…. This is the sort of authentic commentary we hear…….never. Right?
Now I’m not suggesting that we all want to start pouring out our hearts to others just to be seen as authentic. But what I’m drawing your awareness to, is that you can be authentic with yourself first. Quietly. Get to know yourself first, and own your ‘stuff’. It makes a difference.
However, what we are used to instead, is mirroring and modelling our ‘authenticity’ on something else. What we usually mistake as ‘authenticity’ is the defence, the deflection the distraction, and these versions of authenticity end up being judgements and opinions about how others are wrong / bad / stupid / irresponsible / not enough / hurtful / thoughtless / not up to the job / crazy / too much…etc.
Very often what we assume is authenticity is simply an act of passive aggression ( I was the expert in that ), a defence mechanism, or a thinly veiled justification for a blatant personal attack.
So if you would like to bring your awareness to authenticity, to observe it in yourself and others in a new light, maybe even from the curiosity of what you might learn or change, you can start to ask this.
What is my genuine intention for sharing this? If I share this opinion right now, who will benefit, me or them?
To admit that sharing our opinion is actually in our own best interest rather than someone else’s takes a great deal of awareness, and a little practice. As a coach it’s what I’m trained to do. In fact my earliest memory of my coaching training was back in an executive capacity, in my corporate career, and I’ve held on to this simple rule.
Is it truthful AND useful?
If it is both truthful AND useful go ahead. If it feels truthful, but will not be useful, that’s the red flag to stop. Go ahead by all means, but do be prepared for the ensuing conflict and hurt ( or the detrimental effect on morale and performance in a corporate setting ).
It is very tempting to share opinions which might be damaging to others in the guise of authenticity, and to convince ourselves it is actually for the benefit of the other person, when in fact it is simply an act of selfishness. Sometimes we act selfishly in what we communicate to others for our own release, a sense of freedom or relief, a need to express ourselves, or because we have got triggered back into our own personal wounding. There will be times when this is unavoidable, but there will be many times when we can make a conscious choice if we want to.
How do we know whether or how to share our opinion for the good of others?
So if we are conscious and intentional about authentic communication for the good of others, rather than just to make ourselves feel better, how do we do it?
1/ Gauge their receptivity – Did they ask? Do they want advice? Is now the right time? If you were them, in their shoes in their life right now, with all they have going on….how would YOU react?
2/ Be aware of your HOW – Delivery is everything! Are you being KIND? Are you being cruel? Is this coming from a place of love and respect? Are you being critical?
Authenticity from love and kindness will look, sound and be received differently than authenticity from your own fear, anger and judgements. Tune into yourself, and pay special attention to your tone, your language, and your body language. Consider removing the shoulds, musts and oughts from your language, and when asking questions ask HOW rather than WHY – all of the above, although very much a part of everyday language, can be implicitly ‘finger-pointy’ and allude to a sense of blaming or shaming.
Remember, to be truly authentic is to express and own up to your own experience. As we begin to seek to understand and be understood through our communications, rather than to be simply be right and to assert our opinion, some of our old automated responses can be looked at, challenged, and may begin to fall away completely, when we repeatedly and intentionally hold them in our awareness and shine a light on them.
What I have have witnessed in myself, and through working one to one with clients, using techniques like Meditation and EFT which both build awareness and honour our wounding, is that we can become more present to, and authentic about all of our triggers. In myself I have found the more authentic a relationship I have developed with my own ‘stuff’, feelings, stories and patterns, in turn the less I need to rely on expressing my opinion to feel good, connected or validated. To some degree, many of my old opinions are simply redundant. What my clients report, also reflect my own experience, we are able to observe and tune in much more to ourselves and others in a neutral way, which means we are less likely to get pulled off track into opinion based content which ultimately serves no real useful purpose or may even cause damage.
Lisa Bardell is an Executive Coach, Integrative Therapist, Life Coach and Accredited Mind CALM Meditation Coach working from private practices in Cheshire and London Liverpool Street. Lisa runs regular Mind CALM Meditation Workshops across the UK, Corporate Programmes and Personal Development Workshops, as well as Meditation Retreats in Bordeaux and Ibiza.