How to Be Authentic - But Not Totally Transparent - in the Workplace

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By Hallie Crawford

Here's a wonderful Oscar Wilde quote about the authenticity we often see these days, even in commercials: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." That relates to both our personal and professional lives.

Feeling like we can be ourselves is fundamental to our job success and fulfillment. Being ourselves in the workplace means we are comfortable with our boss, our workmates and even clients. It means we can tell jokes, share personal stories and reflections and ask for and give advice.However, some take this to mean we can be totally transparent, like we would with friends or family members. This is not the case. There are times when we could take the transparency too far. We must realize that being too transparent can be detrimental to us professionally and affect how others view us in the office – especially those who hold management positions.

The following tips can help you be yourself in the office, without letting everything hang out.

Know who you are. To be authentic, you first need to know who you are. Identify your values, what makes you happy and your career goals. That way, you're driving your career where you want it to go, rather than taking whatever job you're offered. It's also important to know how others perceive you. Without this important step, one could give seemingly fake opinions. For example, if a manager does not know that he is detail-oriented, telling an employee "however you think is fine" comes across as fake, since employees know he will change the project later.

Action tip: Identify and write down your values and career goals, and ask yourself if others in the office would say the same about you. How well do they know you? To take it a step further, this week at work, be conscious of the image you project to others. Pay attention to your posture, body language and how much of your personal life you share.

Finally, don't hesitate to ask others how you come across. Ask a trusted colleague what comes to mind when they think of you as a professional, both strengths and challenges. Take an informal survey of three colleagues, including your boss, to identify the image you are portraying and ensure it's the one you want to project.

Develop good communication skills, and be mindful of what you share and how you share it. What we want to say is only valuable if we can express it well. You can tell the same story in different ways. For example, in one version, you could tell all the gory details of a food poisoning attack, and in another, you could mention you were ill and to avoid a certain restaurant. The second version of that story is more informative and valuable to others than the first.

Think before you speak, especially in a potentially touchy situation or regarding a possibly difficult topic. If you need to write down what you want to say in advance or practice it on someone else first, do it. Remember: How we say something is just as important as, and in some cases more important than, what we say. Also be mindful of what you share about yourself and others. Do you tend to keep to yourself and therefore may have not developed bonds with co-workers that might be valuable to you? Or do you tend to overshare? Ask others if you are unsure, and determine a plan to adjust.

Action tip: First, think about whether you tend to overshare or don't share enough at work to develop a sense of camaraderie with others. Ask colleagues if needed. If you tend to overshare, do not dominate the office conversation. Before you respond or dive in, take a moment to listen to what others have to say. This build awareness about what is appropriate regarding conversation in your workplace setting and will help you to not dominate the conversation.

If you tend to undershare, remember that you don't always have to talk about something personal. Read more about what's going on in the world. Think of topics you'd like to bring up with colleagues, like a recent movie you enjoyed or an event you attended. This will give you ideas of things to share in the workplace.

Share true information. While this seems like an obvious statement, many in the workforce at one time or another share false stories or fudge details and exaggerate in an attempt to encourage others, be more well-liked or build trust. In some cases we share information we don't know is completely accurate without realizing it. While these underlying intentions are good, sharing false information can have the opposite effect. Avoid telling false tales, and instead try to find experiences that evoke similar emotions.

Action tip: Before you start to share a story, ask yourself, "Is what I'm going to share accurate and true?" or "Is any part of this story potentially inaccurate?" Bottom line: Before you share, pick apart the story to ensure you are providing an accurate representation.

Keep it appropriate. Keep in mind that while some stories are appropriate in a personal setting, they aren't always appropriate in a business environment. Although you don't want to feel like you have to edit everything you say, think about if the topic you want to share is appropriate in the workplace. For example, it's best to avoid conversations about politics, morality and religion. While these topics are important, they are also deeply personal and, in some cases, these types of conversations can turn into arguments and create animosity. If you do choose to talk about these subjects, try to keep it light. Avoid off-color jokes, too. Err on the safe side here.

Finally, don't talk too much about others in the workplace. We all at one time or another have gotten sucked into discussing someone else's situation or sharing other people's stories with co-workers. While others may look to us for information and be engaged in the conversation, they might at the same time not view us as being trustworthy. That can impact your relationships with co-workers and affect how your boss feels about giving you a new client account.

Action tip: Ask yourself if it's really important to share these personal views or stories about a co-worker with others in the workplace, especially if it doesn't have anything to do with work or the task at hand. There are plenty of other things to talk about, so be smart.
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