Can You Be Too Authentic?
I am a huge proponent of authenticity: Know yourself. Present the truth about yourself to others. Allow the real you to be seen. In fact, earlier this week I posted these very sentiments on social media.
But here’s the caveat: Not everyone deserves to see all of you.
I believe that generally speaking, you get what you give. In their book, Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath shared the findings of a study: How we present ourselves to others nonverbally informs them how we expect to be treated. If you go into an interaction expecting the other person to be harsh, they probably will be. If you expect respect or kindness, you’re more likely to get it. How you communicate can greatly impact how others respond to you.
That said… there are a lot of jerks out there. That’s just the reality of the world. Some people are AWFUL—purposefully hurtful or demeaning, rude, selfish, abusive… And while having strong communication skills certainly helps when dealing with difficult people, you need to be savvy in these interactions.
As Brené Brown says, “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege.” The jerks of the world should not be trusted with the depths of the real you.
That doesn’t mean you need to be inauthentic. You can be authentic without baring all. That’s the trick: finding the line between wisdom and pretense, between protecting yourself and covering up, between privacy and secrecy.
You have the right to privacy. You don’t have to be transparent to be real. My house is just as real when the blinds are drawn as it is when the blinds are open. It is normal (and advisable! and at times a public service!) to draw the blinds and preserve privacy. Not everyone gets to see you in your most personal and unguarded moments.
Privacy is a good thing. Secrecy and hiding, however, often are not. Secrecy draws the blinds to conceal something “bad.” Maybe there are illegal activities to cover up. Or maybe the house is just an embarrassing mess. The difference between privacy and secrecy is shame and fear. Shame breeds secrets. It comes down to your motivation. When you value yourself, you take care of yourself. When you’re ashamed of yourself, you hide.
So, how do you communicate authentically, without hiding, while maintaining boundaries? Here are a few tips:
T.H.I.N.K. before you share
Perhaps you’ve seen the acronym before. It stands for True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind, and was developed to help people, well… not be jerks. But the same guidelines apply to dealing with jerks. Truth (authenticity) isn’t the only factor in determining how much of yourself to reveal. Does the other person need to know? Will the outcome of sharing be positive? Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it needs to be said or shown.
Use open body language
To communicate that you are comfortable with yourself, stand up straight and take up the space you need. Remove the barriers, such as clutching a portfolio or bag to your chest, setting up your laptop as a divider, or hugging your arms around yourself. (You didn’t know you did that, eh?) Open body language demonstrates that you have nothing to hide.
Be fully present
Shut off the internal dialog and just BE in the present moment with the other person. That is how you bring your full self to the interaction. But also, when you are fully present, you will be better able to gauge the receptivity and trustworthiness of the other person. Instead of trying to be authentic or trying to hide a secret, you’ll more naturally and instinctively be the real you in the most appropriate way.
Don’t let fear hold you back. Do, however, practice good boundaries. Value yourself enough to protect yourself from those who are harmful. Find safe people with whom you can share yourself at the deepest level. Reserve that for those who have earned it.
Can you be too authentic? No. There’s no such thing. Always be your true, real self.
Maintaining good boundaries is just another way to be true to yourself. In fact, the combination of authenticity with boundaries can often lead the way for others to follow suit and be more respectful in their communication, too.