We all know the benefits of being authentic in our personal lives – deeper friendships, more meaningful relationships, a sense of following our own purpose, greater happiness and more satisfaction in life. Traditionally, though, business has been a completely different ballgame where authenticity, and by default honesty and vulnerability, have been viewed as weak. Now, the rules of the game are changing and the way we do business is evolving.
In a business world where human aspects of communication and interaction are becoming increasingly valued, the pre-recession attitudes of ‘bolshiness and bulls**t’ no longer appeal to customers. In today’s marketplace we no longer trust the false bravado and posturing that helped drive the recession, but instead crave genuine human connection. We want to know that the people we are doing business with are open and honest. Authenticity in business is now a sign that you and your services or products have substance, enabling people to relate to your business on a deeper level and encouraging engagement and loyalty.
So what does authenticity in business actually look like? With the advent of social media and its meteoric growth, businesses – and the people behind them – have needed to become more transparent in their communication with customers. The way social media enables us to interact with businesses, means customers don’t want or expect your business to be a faceless brand but, rather, want to know about the people behind it.
By removing the middle-man, social media has given a new wave of media-savvy consumers a way to connect directly with the people who provide the products and services they want. Likewise, it allows businesses to be ‘human’ and reveal the authentic personalities behind them. This isn’t about blurring the lines between personal and professional, but simply being more ‘yourself’ at work instead of playing the part of how you feel a business woman ought to behave.
Personally, I fought an internal battle for a long time where I believed that business owners and senior executives would not take me seriously as a Managing Director and Presentation Coach if they knew I was also a comedy performer. I got to a point a few years ago where I hid this other side of me. Did that help me or my business? Not at all. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t my true self.
When a client asked outright what made me stand out from other people pitching for the same business, I took a breath and heard myself saying ‘well last weekend I was on a stage making up comedy songs for a room full of drunk people to make them laugh.’ He hired me. And I learned the value of being open about all of who you are, not just parts of you. People will appreciate your honesty and openness. You’ll help to make a real connection.
Admitting and sharing your quirks and uniqueness, your strengths as well as your weaknesses will endear you and your business to clients or customers. Getting to know your customers on a more genuine basis will set your business apart.
Take, for example, changes in the way companies deal with mistakes. Instead of erecting a wall of silence and refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing, consumers these days are happy to forgive companies who make mistakes as long as they are open and honest about what happened.
Customers will forgive brands – or individuals – if they feel they are being authentic and it can actually deepen a connection. After all, we all make mistakes but how you and your business deal with it is how you will be judged in this new business landscape.
By being brutally honest, showing genuine remorse and humanising the brand, most consumers can relate to the feeling of having made a mistake and will respect the way you handle it. So, what are the keys to communicating authentically and staying true to yourself in a business setting? These are my top four tips:
1. Share stories of both success and failure
The right story about yourself can be the best way to connect with others. It acknowledges the listener and reveals the vulnerability of the storyteller. On a practical level, begin cataloguing stories from your life that share something about who you are and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability.
2. Allow weekly time to reflect on your own behaviour
Authentic and effective communicators regularly and systematically review their experience, distilling what there is to learn. Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings, for example, can be particularly useful for insights regarding your own behaviour and the challenges you are facing.
3. Be clear on your personal intent and values
Being authentic in your communication with others isn’t another term for ‘letting it all hang out’, but rather genuinely expressing and communicating the things that are important to you personally. In order to do this fully you may need to get clear on your own personal values.
You could try the following exercise: Find a quiet place and consider the beliefs, principles and values that you believe are essential in life. Start by brainstorming and then narrow the list to a maximum core of seven key values you feel express the deepest truth about who you are. These are the authentic values you want to communicate to others.
4. Accept your imperfections
Effective authentic communicators, in spite of their shortcomings, seem entirely comfortable with themselves. While they recognise their limitations and work to improve them, they also accept all of who they are and aren’t afraid to let others see the ‘real them’. While they’re always trying to improve, they’re not trying to be something they’re not and other people warm to this.
While it may seem daunting at first and certainly a far cry from the power-suited, corporate automatons many of us grew up believing women in business needed to emulate, allowing your true, authentic personality to shine through – showing strengths, weaknesses, vulnerability, humour and personality – not only will not only will you find yourself making deeper, more long lasting connections with other people but, you’ll probably find you feel much happier yourself.