I’ve written a lot about the idea of authenticity both in my book and my online courses, as well as various blogs, LinkedIn posts, and interviews. I think authenticity is important because it helps to build trust. When we find that people are being who they really are and not trying to manipulate us, we grow to respect them. This is especially true when people are accountable to mistakes they have made. Their ability to be honest about their shortcomings makes us respect them more and gives us an impression that they are willing to be honest even when it is inconvenient to do so.
The way I define authenticity in my book is a little bit different than how I have defined it more recently, but really, the definitions are essentially one in the same. In the book, I define it as “treating people the same way you would treat a friend or family member.” More recently, I have come to define it as “presenting an honest version of yourself.” I like this definition a lot because when I think about all the times something has gone wrong for me in a social environment, it is always because I was not presenting an honest version of myself. Especially the times where I have gone out of my way to try to impress people are probably the most embarrassing moments of my life.
Much has been said lately about DISC personality types and their accuracy, as well as the effectiveness of leveraging them in sales environments. A DISC personality type is basically a behavioral assessment that one can take to understand how they might behave in most social environments. I have advised a startup called Humantic.ai that takes that concept a bit further, using the idea of neurolinguistics (essentially, distilling information about a person based on the way they speak) to determine their personality, and by extension, the most effective way to communicate with said individual.
But is it truly authentic to leverage this type of data in a selling environment? I think the answer is a wholehearted yes. Here’s why.
Truly authentic people are able to maintain a balance between being who they are while trying to offer acceptance to others. The number one human need is social acceptance. Unfortunately, it is for that reason that you see such immense tribalism in our politics today. People will willfully be hypocritical about their political beliefs as long as it maintains their social acceptance with their tribe, and we see this all the time these days from all walks of the political spectrum. In fact, if you are reading this and feel that you are not guilty of this phenomenon, then you are actually proving my point — because our acknowledgement of this inherent flaw in us is so scary that we usually will deny it.
Teenage suicide rates amongst young women are at an all-time high, and the prevailing hypothesis for that is social media. When you can leverage an Instagram filter to create a self-appearance that is unrealistic – and when your inclination is to only post the good things in your life – it creates a dark veil through which others experience the world. They start to see themselves as “lesser than” and incapable of living the glorious lives of others that they see online.
I’m not saying all this to be depressing about the state of affairs within our politics or our culture. We have a lot of problems, but that’s not what the blog is about. The blog is about the idea that social acceptance really matters to all of us. What I love about truly authentic people is that they will not belie their own values and behaviors for the sake of social acceptance. We can debate all day about whether Dennis Rodman is a good person, for example, but he certainly doesn’t seem to care whether or not you judge him for being friends with a North Korean dictator. Whether that is good or bad is irrelevant: it’s just who he is, and he doesn’t care what you think.
That being said, at a bare minimum we still want to provide social acceptance for other people as much as we can. At least good, authentic people will care about doing so. And there is a difference between betraying your values and meeting someone where they are in terms of how things resonate with them. Ultimately, if you want to convince someone of anything, you generally have a good understanding of how they like to be communicated with. This makes the other person feel accepted, and that is something that good people always strive to do.
Here is an example. Sometimes in my sales career I give demos to customers and run into people who rush me along. A common occurrence here might be a customer who wants to do less discovery with me and is more eager to hear about how I can help them, or more eager to watch a demo. Now, of course my intention in asking questions and performing discovery is really mutually beneficial: I’m trying to learn if this is a good use of our time, and I’m trying to learn if the customer has pain that I can actually solve. But ultimately I am still able to have the same type of conversation I want to have with that type of customer either way. Once I understand that they like to cut to the chase, I know that I need to make the same points I want to make, but I just need to make them faster and in a more condensed, digestible format. These types of people are often “big picture” people – they do not want to get lost in the minutiae of the details because it slows things down. Again, it does not fundamentally betray my values or my honesty about how I can help someone to adjust – all it does is change the way in which I deliver the information.
We do this all the time in our day-to-day lives. Surely we all have a different type of relationship with our mothers than we have with our fathers. That might be based on all sorts of reasons, including the amount of time we spent with each growing up, or the types of things we did together, or even the way they behaved towards us. Perhaps we have different types of relationships with our brothers than we have with our sisters. We are all familiar with friendship dynamics as well and how a group of two friends might be impacted in a certain way when a third friend is hanging out with the same group. In these situations, we are hyper-aware of how these other individuals like to be treated, and how we can meet them where they are while still maintaining good faith in who we are.
In good relationships, someone should really not have to contort themselves much to achieve a certain objective. I’ve built a good relationship with a teenager I mentor for the Big Brother Big Sister program over the last few years. He’s very shy, but I can still get him to open up by asking open-ended questions. That is authentically the part of me that cares about other people and that wants him to have a relationship with me. It isn’t some other version of me that I am using to get him to accept me.
With that all out there, I’m very excited about the future about how we can leverage personality data to understand how to be sensitive to the needs of others. And if we want to maintain our competitive advantage as human beings over the machines as time evolves, we will have to be as good of stewards as ever in leveraging the greatest asset we have: our authenticity.