So, over the weekend I was with my friends enjoying the Holiday season with a good ole’ Holiday Party. We started talking about writing essays in college, and how we got the many essays completed. Some of us took the rough route of trying to get away with repeat essays merely changing the headline, while others of us pushed through the night getting it completed just in the nick of time. Being a Psychology major, I had my fair share of essays to write, so I told them my strategy: “I always had an epic intriguing thesis statement, and pretty much would just make everything up along the way and sum it together epically in my conclusion.” Hilariously, I mostly got A’s, and I wasn’t the only one who did this.
One of my favorite responses from a professor, was when she held back my paper while handing out everyone else’s. She came up to me at the end of class, and said, “I held your paper back, because I wanted to talk to you in person about it.” She mentioned, “As a professor, you painfully have to read through several essays, and it can be torture sometimes. It’s the least fun part of being a professor, and can be incredibly boring, but that’s not the case when I read yours. See, with yours, I save it for last, it’s my treat. I light the fireplace, I sit in my good chair, I get a glass of my favorite gin, and I read it twice.” I mean, imagine hearing that from a professor, it was wild.
So, what was my secret to getting those A’s? I was ALWAYS my most authentic self in my writing. I kept it real, because in my experience, this was the secret ingredient of writing that people never said, but always looked for most. Sure, people don’t want to read about something boring, so there are some skillful tools to mix in there as well. But the thing I noticed my professors commenting on most, was how they enjoyed reading my papers, and getting to know me through my essays. So how are people getting to know you through your conversations? Are you invested in them, and their experience in the conversation? Is it one sided, or does it create an opportunity for further conversation? We ought to ask ourselves if we are being truly authentic, or if we are just getting by. What you do will determine the outcome of your conversations.
Here’s the thing though that I learned from all those essays: How we address our relationships and interactions, and how we address our conversations, truly does change the way we are “graded” and whether we are taken seriously, and whether people will like us. We need to find out what people want and what they need to hear, how they need to hear it, and why they need to hear it. In our conversations, we need to think about these things to build rapport, and relationship.
What separates the Authentic from the Inauthentic?
Let’s talk about the acting world for a moment. Actors are paid to create a character, but where is the fine line, between playing a character, and becoming the character? Good actors, can separate the two, are highly intentional in their work, and often will have a long line of diverse work, with several different types of characters. A huge mistake a lot of actors make though when they are chasing their dream, is not being authentic. They get sucked into the realm of pretend and can’t separate the two and become inauthentic in every part of their lives (aka fake). They spend too much time on the finite details of what they think is expected of them, that they miss the bigger picture. When they get to their auditions, they say it all in the first few seconds, sometimes without saying a thing. This is the harsh truth of casting, and interviews in general. These actors are always motivated with what they will get from someone, and that becomes their primary goal in their conversations. They spend most their time going from audition to audition, attending 3 workshops a week, trying to stand out with their updated head shots, while desperately seeking connections, recommendations, or opportunities in every conversation.
Here’s the thing though, it really doesn’t matter how many “workshops” you go to, classes you take, parties you go to, improv you take part in, or auditions you sit through. What really matters? Does the casting team believe in you and want to know you, and hang out with you? That’s what it’s all about. Do you have a strong work ethic? Do they believe you? Do you fit with the team? Are you interesting and intriguing? Do they want to deal with you? Are you able to bring the talent without the diva attitude? I’ve always thought it silly when actors spent their time wasting it away with the mindless chase, and I often wondered, if they would wake up one day, and realize they wasted their lives chasing an impossible dream, in an impossible way. They may have the talent, but if you don’t have the authenticity, no one cares. The same is true for the workplace. You need to be able to show who you are, and know what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and who to say it to. You need to be intentional, genuine, intriguing, appropriate and likeable. So, how can you do this in conversations? What does that look like?
What it takes to be Authentic:
Being authentic takes guts. It takes vulnerability, risk, trust and courage. You’re not going to spill out your whole self, but you may want to consider being able to build genuine connections.
I have this neighbor who has an uncanny ability to get anyone to open up with her. She could be talking to a salesman, or the mailman, but she gets the details, and she gets them quick. She is probably the easiest person to talk to that I know. It’s because right at the start of a conversation, she solidifies her trustworthiness by being authentic, saying something real about her, something vulnerable, and something interesting. She is polite, and leads the conversation keeping it open ended to comment on, and before you know it you are telling her your own story and engaging in meaningful talk. This “small talk” in our conversations is truly necessary, in order to get to the “deep talk.” The goal of every conversation is to get to the depth of that person and get them to a point where they are truly listening, and engaged. When someone isn’t listening or engaged, they don’t care about anything you said, and therefore don’t have any concern for you, or what you have to say. Your value becomes dispensable, and that could mean the end of a working relationship, interview, or conversation.
So why be Authentic?
Whether you are in an important meeting, job interview, giving a speech, writing an essay, trying to land that part in the next play, trying to pitch that perfect client, or carrying on a conversation with the Grocery store cashier, being authentic in your conversations is one of the greatest ways to get to know others, build rapport, create your value, and have them care about you and what you have to say. In the end, you will reap what you sow to your audience.