I want to tell you a secret.
It’s been the sort of month where unprompted, people have shared their secrets with me. I feel overwhelmingly privileged to listen to the deep-seated fears, sadness and joy that weighs on their hearts and just hope that in some small way, sharing with me, eases their day a little.
I have noticed this happening more and more as I myself become more open and ‘real’ about my own feelings and thoughts. We hear a lot about ‘being authentic’ in business and lordy knows, the word has peppered the majority of my recent blog posts. But do we really know what it means?
I won’t patronise you with the dictionary definition (ok, I will – it means: of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine).
But how do you be your true self when it comes to business? Sometimes it’s easier to follow the trodden path, to be who we think we should be or says things to impress people. (‘I will have the same business model as every other accountant in the land’ or ‘I will wear a suit to meetings because that’s what I used to do when I worked in a large corporate’ or ‘I have been soooo busy this month’ when you’ve really been in the garden drinking Bloody Marys.)
Behaving differently and in a way that bucks the norm can be a bit scary. I get it. It’s tricky to be the otter that’s floating on its back in circles whilst the river is running wild downstream.
But who’s happier – the otter staring blissfully at the sky charting its own course or the fish being dragged by the undercurrent helpless to resist the direction of flow?
Tips for being authentic
So here are a few tips to help us all be more authentic.
Say how you feel
If you’re struggling, tell people. If you don’t want to do it. Say no. The funny thing about this is that our brains tell us we need to create a façade to prove we’re on top of things to be liked/ loved/ admired. However, it usually has the opposite effect and instead, people resent us, thinking we are perfect and can do everything. It can prompt snidey comments like ‘her life is perfect, she even does her own childcare and cleaning’ when the reality is that she is weeping into her gin every Friday because she’s taken on too much.
It’s awful. You might want to hide and pretend it didn’t happen but cover-ups are always exposed eventually and until they are, they just serve up dollops of anxiety and heartburn. Find ways to solve the issue that you may have caused but be upfront about what went wrong. It’s ok. It’s human. You will show up as someone who is honest and that helps build trust.
Be the customer you want to have
Lead by example. If you want customers to pay on time, pay your suppliers on time. If you want customers to respond to you within 24 hours, then you do the same. When people say one thing, then do another, they erode trust. Behave to others as you wish others to behave to you.
Go with your gut feeling
Not everyone will like your approach but not everyone is the right customer for you. You’re doing what you’re doing because you want to have a positive effect on the world and live the life you want to live. That means being true to yourself. If you don’t want to wear makeup on Skype, don’t. If your child starts screaming during a call, calmly reschedule the call. You know what is important. Listen to your instincts.
What actually happens when you open up to people is that you make greater connections because being human is about having flaws and the best of us recognise that in each other.
More advice on how to be authentic in business
Here are some thoughts from other people on what it means to be authentic in business.
Two articles from Entrepreneur magazine about what authenticity is.
Two articles from Forbes about how to create authenticity in your business.
So, it wouldn’t be fair of me to tell you to be authentic if I didn’t share a few of my own feelings about running business. So here goes:
1.I don’t work 9 to 5 because my brain doesn’t function on an afternoon. Instead, I do my best work during the hours of 6-8 and 9-12 then I schedule meetings between 1-3 and often have an afternoon nap.
2. Some days I see the phone ringing but I don’t answer because I am not mentally prepared to deal with the call. I’m what is called a ‘reflector’ so I like to mull things over. I will call you back but it will be when I’ve had the chance to get my head together.
3. Despite having written thousands of emails, newsletters and social media posts for myself and clients, despite having penned articles for the Guardian, Independent and Cosmopolitan, despite writing every day to hone my craft, I STILL get nervous every time my words are published. You see, as long as my writing stays on my laptop, people can’t have opinions, judge, or criticise. Even pressing ‘publish’ on this gives me butterflies.
However, I don’t want a life that’s lived from behind a garden fence, so here goes… I’m putting my brave pants on and pressing ‘publish’ now. If you like it, let me know. I love hearing kind words. After all, I’m only human.
PS Did you read ‘How to write your brand story from the heart’? This is all about how to create an authentic story to help promote your business.