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"Be your authentic self. Your authentic self is who you are when you have no fear of judgment or before the world starts pushing you around and telling you who you're supposed to be."
—Dr. Phil McGraw (aka "Dr. Phil"), psychologist and TV-show host
Samuel was a mid-level manager at a prestigious New York City museum. He attended a day-long workshop I conducted on assertiveness, and during the program he barely spoke, though he did take copious notes. At the end of the day he hung back and waited for everyone else to leave, then approached me. He expressed his deep frustrations about feeling overwhelmed when navigating the dinners, conferences, and other business and social functions he was required to attend as a member of the museum's development team, a position to which he had recently been promoted.
As he told me about his goals for the museum, his passion for his work was clear, so I was shocked when he admitted that he was thinking about quitting. He said that he thought his networking ineptitude would hurt the museum, and that therefore he was the wrong person for the job. I voiced my hunch that this networking apprehension was something he could overcome. He seemed encouraged by my words. In order to devise a plan to try to help him deal with the challenges, I needed to see him in action to better understand his unease. So he invited me to attend an upcoming fund-raising event at the museum, where I could assess his handling of the situation myself. I accepted the offer.
No sooner had I arrived at the event when I was suddenly jarred by a loud bark of laughter. I turned to find out who made the noise, and was startled to see that it was Samuel. I couldn't believe that the harsh, off-putting sound I just heard had come from the same mild-mannered person I'd been speaking with just a few days earlier.
As the night continued, Samuel kept a brittle smile plastered on his face. Every now and then he caught my eye and raised his eyebrows to indicate he was "working the crowd." But by the end of the night, he looked exhausted by the strain of the immense effort he had put forth. And that was just the problem—he had been "working it," as in working at it, rather than just being, talking, listening, sharing.
When we spoke about the evening afterward, he was disheartened, if not surprised, to learn that I had seen through the smile. "But I was trying so hard to be engaging," he explained, "to act as it seems a successful person in my position would."
"I know," I responded. "That's the problem."
When we come from an authentic, genuine place in ourselves, our efforts to connect with people work to their fullest. Our relationships develop more easily and last longer, and we feel better about the people we've brought into our lives and our work.
I've spent time coaching students on how to prepare for one of the most fundamental business interactions, the job interview. I remember watching again and again as one of my students, Raj, froze while tackling the task. He had a dry sense of humor and could chat easily in casual conversation, but as soon as we'd start doing a mock interview, his personality would disappear. I tried distracting him away from being self-conscious, but the second he realized I was posing an interview question he became stiff and formal and very, very serious. Even his word choices changed.
What I tried to impress upon him, and what he finally understood, is that there is no right or wrong way to interact with people; there is no one correct way to "be." What feels right for one person may feel all wrong for another. What matters most is what feels right for you. As soon as Raj started being himself in our mock interviews, he was able to think more flexibly and respond more quickly and just generally become far more engaging. His likability was coming through.
Be You, Be Real, Be Authentic
What does it mean to be authentic? The particulars are different for each of us, of course, because we all have different attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, skill sets, knowledge, goals, and values. In a general sense, though, authenticity is the same for everyone: It is about being your true self. This is the law of authenticity: The real you is the best you.
Being your authentic self feels natural, so much so that when you experience it you probably don't even notice it. On the flip side, we all know it when we're not being our natural selves. We feel uncomfortable, awkward even, perhaps unconfident and stressed, and more often than not, after being in a situation where we don't feel as if we are being our true selves, we'll feel drained. There is a difference between tired and drained. Tired is a physical state. But that drained, emptied-out feeling comes from the mental effort of forcing yourself to act in a way that is not natural for you, when you are doing something that doesn't feel quite right, something that feels inauthentic.
What is it that goes through our minds when we are not being ourselves? Over the years I have asked many people this question and the most frequent answers are:
I don't like this situation, but I'm trying to be polite about it.
I don't like this person, but I'm trying to act in an appropriate way.
I need to act more like a successful person does.
If people don't respond positively to me, at least I'll have an excuse if I don't act like myself.
I am uncomfortable and don't know what to do about it.
And what is consistent about all these responses? They either represent things we feel we should do or a general fear of feeling vulnerable. We put on a false face when, for whatever reasons, we dread a situation or feel we are not up to it.
Authenticity is not just the subject of this first chapter, it is the guiding principle of the book. As you read through the other chapters you will discover that authenticity is woven into all the other laws. It is the keystone to likability, because it gets at its essence: The real you is the best you, and it's the most powerful tool for forming real connections.
Why Authenticity Matters
Let's go back to Samuel for a minute. When he first spoke to me about the museum's fund-raising efforts and the expansion plans behind them, he conveyed his excitement in a genuine, forthright way. His sincerity truly moved me. But a few days later, when I saw him at an actual museum event, it was clear from his plastered-on smile and barking laugh that something about the situation made him deeply uncomfortable. As a result, his real passion for his job and his commitment to the museum were not being conveyed to the very people—the potential donors—he needed to reach.
Authenticity is who you are—your honest reactions, your natural energy. Sharing what is real about you is the key to building real relationships with others. When you show your authentic self, people will respond in kind, laying the bedrock for mutual understanding, connections, and growth.
How Do You Do It?
The beauty of the law of authenticity is in its simplicity: Don't try, just be. Of course, embracing this simple truth can be easier said than done. In our fast-paced lives, we tend to tear through situations without giving them much thought, and so we might not even be aware of when we are and aren't being authentic. Even when we realize we are not genuinely being ourselves—when we are faking an attitude that we think is "better" than the one we truly feel, or sleepwalking through a situation because we think we don't have time to slow down and be fully present—it can be difficult to stop these behaviors. But the secret is to just stop trying to be who you think you "should" be, whether that's the too-busy-for-the-small-stuff boss or the acquiescent new hire who doesn't feel quite comfortable giving opinions. Quit monitoring or premeditating your actions. Don't think, just be.
In my rare downtime, my guilty pleasure is watching reality TV shows. So many of them are such primal struggles between personality types, and I find it fascinating to see the dramas play out. When I think about why I root for certain contestants and not others, the answer is always the same: The characters I'm drawn to are being real. On one show, there was the contestant who spoke a mile a minute, a trait that could sometimes be annoying. She knew she had this trait and tried to manage it, but she inevitably wound up babbling rapidly and excitedly in the end. Even though some of the other contestants were irritated by her chattering, because this quality was a natural part of her, and because she accepted it and had a sense of humor about it, it was part of her authentic charm. On another show there was a pretty girl who at first seemed like she'd be the stuck-up ice queen, the obvious target of envy and attention who'd polarize the whole group. It turned out, though, that she was a total goofball. She let her goofiness come out naturally and was completely okay with it, and on top of it, she was not self-conscious about her good looks. This combination made her entirely likable.
After I debriefed Samuel about his inauthentic behavior at the museum event, I continued coaching him on how to identify his weaknesses and harness his strengths when faced with similar situations. During one of our most useful exercises, we reflected on how children often don't censor their behavior, and their authentic selves naturally shine through. I shared a story about a friend of mine who had been a principal at an elementary school and who sported a rather shockingly unnatural head of red hair. She could always tell what the children thought of her hairdos because they would just blurt it right out. "I like your new hair color, it matches my raincoat!" they'd say, or "Why did you do that to your hair?" Any time she told these stories she beamed in awe at the kids' raw honesty.
Granted, Samuel and I weren't aiming for such childlike honesty that he'd be howling in laughter at the sight of a museum patron's kooky hat, but we were trying to reconnect with that unfettered experience of being a child, before the adult in us started modifying itself based on what it thought the bigger world wanted. We were trying to think back on a time that preceded grown-up responsibilities and concerns, to a time when our emotions, intentions, and behaviors were largely unfiltered.
Once Samuel was able to reconnect with what naturally made him feel at ease, he realized that although he dreaded being in a large crowd and feeling the need to be the life of the party, he was completely comfortable talking one-on-one or in very small groups, and under these conditions he could easily engage patrons and potential patrons in meaningful discussions about the museum.
Make the Friends You Want to Make
On day one of my first year of business school, my classmates and I were divided into groups of sixty-five people, called clusters. The members of a cluster share every single class for the first year, so naturally cliques form.
My cluster coalesced around a few subgroups that were delineated by commonalities such as geographic background, financial upbringing, or preferred career path. The two groups with which I found myself most involved revolved around a guy from Boston and one from Brooklyn. The Boston group was the polo-shirt-and-khaki-pants crowd. Their mannerisms and humor were more refined and formal, and they appeared to enjoy an elite way of life, with seemingly endless social and business connections. Then there was the Brooklyn crew epitomized by a Brooklyn boy named Dean (aka Dino), decidedly not refined and proud of it. They hadn't had as many advantages growing up as the Boston gang had, and they were louder, rowdier, often bantering back and forth in a hilarious and off-color way.
There was a clear distinction between the two groups, but both were friendly toward me. I liked people in both circles and could have gravitated toward either. Perhaps if I'd been thinking strictly about which group could "do more for me" I would have made it an objective to become part of the elite, wealthy group. I probably would have gained access to extremely useful contacts (and I definitely would have been invited to some great vacations in the Hamptons), but something about the group's refined tone didn't quite jibe with my natural personality. When I hung out with the Boston crowd, I found myself feeling as if I had to censor my boisterous, extroverted nature. The relationships I had with that group felt a bit forced and tenuous at times. When I spent time with the Brooklyn group I found that I was simply more comfortable, happier, and relaxed. I still consider many from the Boston group friends. However, the Brooklyn relationships grew much stronger simply because I could just be myself.
When I started spending time with Brooklyn Dino's gang, I wasn't looking for anything beyond friendships and shared interests, yet the relationships I developed back then continue to enrich my life and my work. Years later, when I called Dino to tell him that I'd been laid off, I was reaching out as a friend. I didn't expect his response to be "Come work here"—which is exactly what I did, less than one week after that call. People from the Brooklyn group are more than friends; they have become important clients, colleagues, referrals, and sources of information for me, both professionally and personally. And I wasn't looking for any of these outcomes when I befriended them.
So here's the point: Cultivate the connections that you want to have, not the ones you think you should have. Build relationships with the people you enjoy, based on your authentic experiences of them—that is, when you are being your authentic you. The rest will follow. The network that you create is the one that will sustain you.
Good News for the Introverts
Introverts usually think that making connections and building relationships is something that comes more naturally for extroverts. The average extrovert probably wouldn't agree or disagree with this belief; the extrovert simply wouldn't think about it, because extroverts are often too busy being themselves to stop and analyze what they are doing. Contrary to what introverts might think, extroverts face their own challenges connecting (this topic is examined in greater detail in Chapter 3).
But for now, introverts should know that they can feel completely at ease in business and social situations too, and that being introverted can be a strength. Introverts are often naturally equipped to initiate connections because they tend to be good listeners. If you are an introvert, the key is to listen to your own rhythms. Don't try to emulate your wildly gregarious colleagues; instead, pay attention to what makes you comfortable. Do you get tired after a long night of chitchat? It's okay to leave a function on the early side, to connect with whomever you need to and then bow out before the shindig dies down. When you are part of a group conversation, do you prefer to listen to others and only speak up when you have something to say? Then by all means, do just that, it's entirely fine. In terms of behaviors, whatever you decide feels authentic and true is what is okay.
My friend Julie is an introvert and normally quite shy. When a guy she'd been dating, and really liked, invited her to dinner to meet his parents, she told me that she smilingly accepted, but inside she felt totally nauseous. "How am I going to get through this dinner?" she asked me. "What should I do?" When I answered, "What about just being yourself?" she looked at me as if I had ten heads. Clearly that wasn't something she felt would come naturally to her in the situation. She was worried that she might not live up to his parents' expectations, and she didn't know how to come across as the perfect girlfriend. "If you feel like being quiet and waiting for someone else to start the conversation, wait. You're allowed," I said. A light went on in her eyes, as if suddenly understanding that she could give herself permission to just be herself.
Excerpted from The 11 Laws of Likability by Michelle Tillis Lederman Copyright © 2012 by Michelle Tillis Lederman. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 23, 2012
In an era that reveres networking, when Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are the new town squares and the number of your online friends and followers is your social currency, few issues are more vital than likability. Connections guru Michelle Tillis Lederman provides 11 sensible laws to enhance your likability. Her rules are elementary and predictable, though she leaves out the most obvious and all-encompassing one: be nice. getAbstract warmly recommends her rules to those who need help socializing. If you are socially out of touch, no matter how skilled you are in the library, in the lab or at the laptop, Lederman’s book will help you connect.
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Posted June 21, 2012
11 Laws of Likability is a GREAT read. The author uses her personal experience to help explain the concepts. It makes for an intersting read that is easy to understand and easy to connect with! I highly recommend!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.