How teams can achieve authenticity in their workplaces

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Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

Authenticity has the potential to be a powerful force in the work world. At its essence is an integrity that invites trustworthiness – a requisite for any healthy culture. Showing up authentically in the workplace is both alluring and intimidating. Risking that kind of transparency requires vulnerability and courage.

We crave authenticity in our conversations because a more honest dialogue gives breath to a deeper connection. It also reduces the wasted energy of guesswork and drama. Teams that negotiate real conversations create a shared code of conduct that breeds respect, breakthroughs, and efficiencies.

Humans want to experience a sense of belonging – in their friendships, families, communities, and yes, even in their places of employment. Satisfying that need in any meaningful way requires us to be accepted for who we are, and not as some replicas of ourselves presented under the label of “professionalism.” It takes tremendous effort to exist behind the shield of the imposter syndrome. Authenticity frees us to showcase our innate and cultivated strengths, without the baggage of pretense.

Authenticity inspires. There is a trusted enthusiasm and lightness radiated in a person living genuinely. If we are going to create work communities that thrive, we need to foster the kind of camaraderie that is deeper than a happy hour, potluck, or surface conversations.

Get out from behind the conversation and make it real. In the middle of a recent conversation with a friend, I was struck with the awareness that I didn’t have to wonder what she was thinking. I didn’t have to conjecture, jockey for position, or formulate a response. I was IN the conversation – curious, open, and engaged.

We need to feel comfortable around each other, supporting one another not only in successfully meeting our shared goals, but in creating space where we can be ourselves and become our potential. It’s a generative experience that invites us to lean in, tap into our creativity, and bring good energy into our work.

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Signs of authenticity

Self-expression is an ongoing creative endeavor. It is the act of sharing one’s thoughts, beliefs, values, hopes, fears, and identity. I think of it as living, “inside out.”

Say what you think. Have you ever been in a conversation where you have a reaction to what has been said, and you stay quiet about it? Maybe you are giving yourself time to digest it, or like many, avoiding engagement in potential conflict. Yet when we respectfully tackle issues head on, we are stating that we want to get in front of the issue with our colleagues. It expands possibilities. By not skirting the real issue, we build trust. People are not left wondering where you stand or what you care about, and it sends a message that handling tough stuff as soon as there is an inkling of a concern is the norm.

When we hold back, keep our cards close to our chest, leave out information, or hold a hidden agenda, it creates distance, frustrations, and mistrust. Absent transparency, people tend to make up stories about the intentions of others. Alternatively, as author Susan Scott, in her book “Fierce Conversations” notes, “There is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us.”

Speak from the heart. Part of the beauty of authenticity is that it can fuel more cohesive relationships because there is an element of heartfelt care. Quality relationships are infused with emotional awareness, tending to our own needs and those of our teammates. When we allow the emotional to be a part of the conversation, we open a channel for more united, naturally flawed, but more human teams.

There is a caveat. This does not mean you should speak without filters or endlessly externally process your thoughts. That would likely be unkind and exhausting. Nor does it mean you should wear your emotions on your sleeves or sweep them under the rug. That would be irresponsible of your emotional wake and untenable to fostering resilient relationships. It means you should speak your truth and bring the emotions into the conversation – recognizing it is the place where relationships come alive. Teams that do this know what it means to “have each other’s backs.”

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Create a culture that honors contributions

When we let people know what and how we are thinking and feeling it creates a more spacious presence to engage. It invites discussion. When done well, it can create a psychologically safe place for all parties to share their perspectives. Create a culture that cherishes people speaking up. Demonstrate appreciation for ideas and concerns or run the risk of losing that pipeline of engagement. Show respect and trust by engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the intent to collaborate and align.

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Create a culture that celebrates the total person

Authenticity makes room for illuminating and amplifying unique strengths and capacity for contribution. Acknowledge team members’ uniqueness. Celebrate their quirkiness – it adds flavor and diversity to the team. All too often, we place unnecessary judgments on others – shutting down our receptivity and curtailing their capacity to impact. If we can remember that another’s wants, needs, preferences, and ways of being are valid, we make room for the whole person. This holistic approach to culture building lays the foundation for inclusion, loyalty, and caring.

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How will you be more authentic in the workplace?

Being authentic offers an ongoing check-in for congruency. How well does the outer circle of my external world match the inner circle of my true identity? How well do I know and live by my values? Do I say what I mean? Do I say what I think?

Embrace your idiosyncrasies. Radical self-acceptance allows you to tap into your strengths and passions. Suspend the temptation to judge and compare. Be bold enough to step into the conversation armed only with curiosity.

Authenticity is not just for workplaces; it is fundamental to an individual’s well-being – and an organization’s. Try it on. I think you’ll find it refreshing and impactful to bring your whole, real self to work.

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Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or karen@natzel.net.