There is a case being built for bringing your authentic selves to the workplace, and it has many takers. In a recent study cited by Laura Guillén, Associate Professor at Esade Business & Law School in Spain, 72% of the respondents reported being authentic at work, and 75% wanted their coworkers to be authentic and display their true selves.
However, about 10% of the respondents believed that authenticity could be detrimental and make the workplace environment worse. They are not alone. More and more, researchers like Guillén question whether too much authenticity at work could be detrimental.
Adam Grant, Professor of Management and Psychology, Wharton School, also cautions against too much of authenticity. Highlighting research where authentic people were discovered to receive significantly lower performance evaluations and were significantly less likely to get promoted into leadership roles, he points out the potential costs of being “too authentic” – failing to grow, oversharing, and feeling inferior.
However, experts also agree that a lack of authenticity at work is a recipe for anxiety and stress. And what’s more, perceived inauthenticity among leaders erodes trust. The answer, therefore, lies in finding a middle ground that affords you room to be authentic and vulnerable while being aware of the potential negative consequences of excessive authenticity. The following guidelines are built around this objective.
- Before you display authenticity, show competence
Research from University College London suggests that displaying a tendency towards authenticity and self-verification in job interviews can increase the likelihood of a candidate’s selection, but only if the candidate is seen as very competent and highly qualified to begin with. As Dr. Sunny Lee points out, “If I’m competent and have good morals, my accurate and clear description of myself to recruiters will impress them even more … But when I’m incompetent or have dark personality traits, revealing such severe weaknesses to others will backfire at me.”
- Along with your authentic beliefs, remember your boundaries
While communicating authentically builds trust, steer clear of situations where your vulnerability could make people question your competence or create unnecessary fear. Brené Brown, professor and author of Daring Greatly, offers the example of a CEO who spoke to her about his decision to tell his investors and employees that the company was bleeding money. She pointed out to him that doing so would unfairly put these people in a terrible position of fear, and he should discuss his fears and insecurities with a more appropriate person. In every situation, she recommends considering whether sharing your emotions and experiences would move your work, connection, or relationship forward, and taking a decision based on that.
What else do you need to bear in mind while being authentic and your true self at work? The next part of this article has more suggestions. Stay tuned for it.