How to be your authentic self at work

We’ve all heard of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, but what about ‘authenticate it ‘till you make it’? Not as catchy, but it’s vital to feel more comfortable at work and keep self-doubt at bay.

First, what does ‘being authentic’ mean? Merriam-Webster defines authenticity as ‘true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character’, while Oxford Dictionary expresses it as ‘the quality of being true’. So, how can we bring our own quality of ‘being true’ into an environment where for so long, we have been taught to mask our truth and put on a ‘professional’ face or persona?

It’s important to dig into the principle of authenticity and consider why it matters. In fact, research shows that when we are ourselves at work, our performance can be positively impacted by up to 85%, with authenticity also reducing stress and burnout.

It can help to think of it this way: it’s not about working to be authentic, it’s about ensuring you’re not being inauthentic. Trust between those we work with is more important than ever, and inauthenticity can potentially destroy that trust, and hold back your professional credibility and, in turn, your career.

So, how can you feel confident and safe to bring your authentic self to the workplace? And how will that help you to be a better colleague and leader and climb further in your career?

What does it mean to communicate authentically?

According to Emma Serlin, Founder and Director at London Speech Workshop, authenticity at its simplest is about caring about what you are saying. When you speak your truth – it matters. But that also opens up a space to let people in, to be seen. It can take a little courage to be authentic because it is about showing up as your true self, through your words, voice, body language and actions.

Authenticity is something that can come to us automatically if we let it. If you’re speaking about a topic you’re passionate about, for example, your body will engage, your eyes will brighten, and your voice will be powered by your breath. Tapping into this to make sure you connect back to your values and passions is key for authenticity.

Emma touches on a simple tool that outlines the importance of practising authenticity, something she refers to as ‘ACE’. 

ACE stands for: Authenticity plus Connection equals Engagement. The idea is simple; if you’re authentic then you care about what you are saying. If you also care about the people you are speaking to, you get connection. If you have authenticity and connection – the people you are speaking to will also care – you will then get engagement.

However, sometimes, nerves, performance anxiety or simply feeling the need to ‘be’ a certain way at work can get in the way of our authentic, intuitive responses.

This can happen a lot for people who are trying to settle into a new job, or even for those warming up to a more senior role. We naturally then may push away our authentic selves for a version we think our peers would prefer or respond better to.

But being your true self is becoming more and more important in the workplace, especially as people want meaningful relationships and to feel more driven and connected at work. As such, bringing your authentic self is essential.

How to tap into your authentic self

We all have our own unique flair. It’s not something we should shy away from. There might be parts of our personality we may need to adjust in a professional setting, but it doesn’t mean we need to oppress it. Once you are more comfortable and confident within yourself, you can draw out what makes you ‘you’ at work.

Emma refers to this as having your own personal ‘spice’ – your uniqueness that makes you stand out from everyone around you. Here are some ways you can understand what your spice is and how to draw it out.

1) Know your values

Who we are is guided by what we believe – our values, and so to be authentic, it helps to know your values. Research has also found that reflecting on personal values can lower your stress response, as well as boost decision-making and problem-solving skills – all factors that benefit us at work.

Say you value compassion, individuality and hard work. Because these values are part of who you are, they provide an easy way to share and connect with colleagues or new people authentically.     

Being honest and open about who you are and what you really care about is a powerful place to be, and it’s key to getting respect.

In the workplace, consciously making the connection between your words and actions and your values will quickly start to ignite more passion in you. It will help to give you your ‘Why’ – especially on those tougher days which require a bit more grit to get through them.

Knowing your workplace ‘Why’ will, in turn, transform into genuine, authentic expression – as it becomes a more overt and conscious part of your communication with your team and even clients, making you a stronger, more compelling leader and manager. It will also help you to motivate and empower your people – and positive results will soon follow.

2) Practice empowered vulnerability    

Once you see the benefit of bringing a bit more of yourself to the table, practise a bit of empowered vulnerability. A simple way to do this is to share some of your personal journeys, lessons and challenges you have worked through or overcome.

The strength to say, ‘I was scared of something, but I dealt with it by…’ or ‘something I’m working on with myself is…’, for instance, are powerful ways to inspire others, connect, and in an empowered way, share a bit of your true self.

An inspiring leader is someone who is humble enough to share their flaws, and strong enough to have learnt great lessons from them.

When you start to express your honest self, through empowered vulnerability and values, you will be embarking on a very real journey of authentic leadership both of yourself and others.  The quality of your connections will change too.         

3) Be enthusiastic about your passion

Displaying passion and emotion has a similar effect to honesty: it’s fuel for connection. It’s certainly not a weakness.

For example, the late Steve Jobs wasn’t known for being a great public speaker, but was fanatical about work. When he announced new products, his passion was contagious – riveting even. And as a result, whatever he announced would sell out beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Why? Because he oozed authentic passion.                                   

When you bring your authentic self to work, your communication will become more powerful, your team members will benefit from your energy and contribution, and others will also feel more comfortable and encouraged to be more authentic – resulting in a happier workplace and a happier you.

Author: Emma Serlin, Founder and Director at London Speech Workshop