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“Authenticity” gets thrown around as a buzz phrase constantly. But what does being authentic actually mean? And what does it mean in the context of the workplace?

Can I be professional and still be authentic?

Many people think that in order to be seen as “professional”, they need to exude a kind of emotional reservedness or restraint. They believe that (especially in the corporate world) it’s important not to be too opinionated, or share too many of your emotions, or wear your heart on your sleeve. They should be unflappable, neutral, perhaps even distant.

In other words, they are afraid of showing their vulnerability. The reality is often the other way around. Being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness. People that are prepared to put themselves out there and share their genuine feelings are generally respected, admired and well-liked, not ridiculed. 

This is what it means to be authentic in the workplace. This extends to how you present yourself as well. For example, if a company’s dress code is fairly relaxed, then you should dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and allows you to be yourself. Don’t put a suit on just because you think it’ll make you appear more professional. People will see through it if it’s just not you.

The importance of openness and humour

Think about the best leaders or the most inspiring public speakers that you’ve come across in your life. Were they emotionally reserved and guarded? I’d say it’s unlikely. The chances are they were open, honest and unafraid of showing their vulnerability. Showing your vulnerability and being authentic can also be as simple as being candid about your past mistakes and what you’ve learned from them.

How often have you seen an inspiring speech from someone in which they talk about an error or a past failure that later set them on a path for success? All of this connects back to authenticity. 

The opposite of being authentic is being fake or unreal. The thing about fakeness is that most people can spot it a mile away – and it’s an instant turn off.

Having a sense of humour is important too, particularly when it comes to self-deprecation. People appreciate it if you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Just be yourself!

It’s a cliché, but it can’t be repeated enough. There’s no shame in simply being you. Workplaces in this day and age are making a concerted effort to foster a diverse culture and this extends to embracing a diverse range of personalities. 

Your quirks and idiosyncrasies are what make you, you. If you’re feeling the pressure from your workplace to conform to a personality type that just isn’t you, then perhaps it’s time to look for another job, or even change industries. As long as you’re approaching your job with a positive work ethic and kindness towards your colleagues, everyone deserves to be respected for being their authentic selves.