Engaging in authentic conversations allows people to feel most alive and real, and leads to high morale. We need real conversations in order to provide clarity and move discussions, decisions, business outcomes and performance forward.
Yet, despite the power of authenticity, it can be surprisingly hard to achieve this at work. Our identity and/or our relationships with others can feel at stake if we take a position and say what we think, feel or want.
What do you see when you consider your work self? Are you a far different person at work than you are outside of it? Also step back and observe team meetings. How much are team members holding back? Do individuals seem to be sharing all of their thoughts, positions and ideas? Is the team able to debate and hear from a variety of voices, positions, and ideas? Are positions and ideas coming from a diverse pool, as is true for the most effective teams? Or, instead, are there metaphorical bubbles over the heads of various team members filled with unspoken thoughts and untapped potential? What if you could get to that potential, by setting up the conditions that allow team members to feel safe being open, taking unpopular opinions, and making mistakes?
It is healthy to have a concern for how others will feel about what we say—it’s part of being empathetic. Authenticity isn’t about blasting people with our views. It’s a subtle process in which each of us must build enough trust in ourselves to be able to say what we think and believe, while managing the tension and discomfort that comes when we know not everyone will agree with us, like our decision, or support us. We must believe that we will gain respect and work to our highest capacity by taking a position.
For leaders of teams, it is also a subtle art to create the conditions in which individuals feel safe to risk saying what they think, feel, and want. Even people confident in expressing themselves might choose to hold back from authentic conversations if they don’t feel safe or as if their voice will be heard. If team members seem discontented; if a team isn’t thriving, ask yourself what can be done to move toward more authentic conversations. The results will be well worth it.