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Why being authentic is not enough

I contributed to an article this month in Smallish magazine (http://www.smallishmagazine.com/boost-your-super-self) about communicating with confidence and how, with small, practical tools, you can create the conditions in which you will feel more assured, more in control and less judged. It’s a piece which will resonate with many who are in the ‘new year, new me’ frame of mind. And why not? We shouldn’t limit our January self improvement drive to dieting and clearing the loft. Honing your communication skills, in social and professional situations, as Sheryl Sandberg observed, can “change your life and your career”.

For some people this is a ‘nice-to-have’, for others it’s a necessity. Hence my focus in 2016 on helping those who have been diminished by the process of divorce (January, sadly, is a busy time for family lawyers). For them it’s a question of finding their voice again and learning to be effective with a variety of challenging audiences (lawyers, judges, accountants, family, friends, children, employers, the ‘ex’).

Effective, but also authentic. This word was the focus of an event run last week by my friends at Voice at the Table – how to remain authentic in the work place, not just in communication terms but in the way we dress, the way we ask for promotion, the way we achieve a work/life balance. There was excellent debate and much support for the idea of authenticity (I’m already a convert – it’s central to everything I do in the training room). But I’ve wondered since if, in communication terms, authenticity is something of a blunt instrument and if there isn’t another word which should be hyphenated to it – appropriate.

After all, authenticity shouldn’t be an excuse for rudeness (the ‘not suffering fools gladly’/’telling it like it is’ syndrome). I recently worked with someone whose default communication style was brusque. This was causing difficulties with colleagues so she learned to finesse her style, according to the situation and the audience. She remained authentic but became a more sophisticated communicator, using tone of voice, volume, body language, pace, to fine tune her delivery. Most of us do this instinctively in every day life. We speak to our children, partners, parents, boss in subtly different ways even when delivering essentially the same messages. The objective in the training room is therefore to become aware of this range of different styles – all of them authentic – so that we can use them appropriately and effectively.

So, alongside less booze, more sit ups, more kale and fewer crisps in this new-year’s self improvement campaign, perhaps we should add being authentic and appropriate.