Tis the season!
Friday, November 16, 2018 at 10:50 AM
Ann Timmons

Every year the holiday-themed displays in big box stores creep earlier and earlier into the fall, so I have gotten used to tuning them out. But as the snow fell (and fell!) here in Brooklyn on Thursday, it was as if a bell had rung, waking me up to the fact that The Holiday Season is just around the corner. And as the evergreens start to appear, I thought I'd reflect upon one of my "evergreens"--communications issues that crop up regularly in my practice. This particular one bears some consideration as we enter a holiday season of professional and collegial socializing.  

A client was discussing some workplace communications issues that had been brought to her attention. Her boss suggested she could solve them by "being more authentic." She nodded, of course, but shared her concerns with me. "Everyone places so much importance on being authentic; they say it helps the office culture. So we all need to 'just be ourselves' all the time. I feel I'm being honest, but I want to maintain a distance between my office self and my at-home self." And she is exactly right! I have blogged about this before (What is authentic authenticity?), echoing the sentiment of a New York Times headline that made me laugh:  "Unless You're Oprah, "Be Yourself" is Terrible Advice ." 

This buzzword "authentic" does not mean unfiltered! Few people in our personal lives--not friends, spouses, and certainly not children--want to see what's really going on in our primal, private inner selves. So why should we share those thoughts and actions with office mates? Bringing this point up to those who insist on it doesn't really get you anywhere, though. But take heart, this "authenticity mania" will wear itself out eventually. In the meantime, my client and I devised some strategies to give her more flexibility with those who chide her for not being "authentic" enough.  

True authenticity--being fully present, communicating with an open mind, responding appropriately to the situation--is a wonderful thing. But just like you wouldn't show up to a gala in torn jeans and a dirty tee, you don't want to show up for work without your professional communication mindset. "Authenticity" is a worthy goal, but not when people misinterpret it to justify their own laziness.


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