sking yourself if you are being authentic enough is like asking if your jeans make your butt look big.

Asking yourself if you are being authentic enough is like asking if your jeans make your butt look big.

Heather Bussing is a returning contributor to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Heather has practiced employment and business law for over 20 years. She has represented employers, unions and employees in every aspect of employment and labor law including contract negotiations, discrimination and wage hour issues. While the courtroom is a place she’s very familiar with, her preferred approach to employment law is to prevent problems through early intervention and good policies and agreements. Full bio

by Heather Bussing

I’ve been listening to sessions on employment branding at the Tru London conference.  The overall consensus is that companies should be more “authentic.”  But what does that really mean?  And how do you do it?

Asking yourself if you are being authentic enough is like asking if your jeans make your butt look big.  The questions are equally narcissistic and no one is going to tell you the truth.  (By the way, transparency always makes your butt look big.)

 To work on being more “authentic” is to preclude the very possibility of authenticity.  Authenticity is not a destination.  It’s part of the sweat you work up taking a good hard run at life. 

 There is no way to “be” authentic.  Authenticity is inherent in just being. This is because being authentic is just being yourself.  If you are comfortable in your own skin, you will be authentic without trying.

 It gets a little more complex when you want to appear authentic while doing something that isn’t really, well, “you.”   This is the classic problem with politics, advertising, marketing, branding, social media and recruiting. 

 “Really, this job as the Manager of the Ice Plant in Juno—Fantastic Career Move!”

 How do you appear authentic and sincere and still keep your job or fill the one that really stinks?

 For some, being authentic means revealing personal information.  For others, it means demonstrating their quirks and foibles to seem more human.  Still others want to be clearer in their communications and say exactly what they mean. 

 These things don’t always work, nor do they demonstrate authenticity.  The whole point of authenticity is credibility.  When we say somone is authentic it means that they are not fake, they are true and you can believe them.

“The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made”  -Jean Giraudeaux 
But the reverse is also true.  “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal” – Oscar Wilde. 

So the key is to be yourself but stay focused on your purpose, audience and topic. Here are some practical tips I’ve learned as a trial lawyer on where to draw the line with your genuine, sincere, authenticity:

 1.       Avoid TMI:  Too Much Information is not the same as being authentic.  People don’t want to know about your medical conditions, particularly anything involving a rash or oozing.  They also don’t want to know about the toilet training of your children, how you cured smelly feet or what type of tampon you think works best.

 2.       Avoid Public Heartfelt Disclosures:  It absolutely works in private and is essential to close relationships.  Most people are really uncomfortable with that level of disclosure with people they don’t know.  So avoid public discussion in business or professional settings of the epiphanies you had in therapy, church, during sex or any combination thereof.

 3.       Self deprecation only works if it’s funny.  Irony doesn’t come through in writing unless you are a really talented writer with room for context.  Even adding an emoticon just doesn’t cut it.  If you say, “I’m such an idiot,”  people will just think you’re an idiot.  On the other hand, you can push the line a lot farther if it’s funny (or really loud- think Recruiting Animal).

 4.       Be your “professional” self.  Put things out there you would share with a new boss or colleague.  If it’s someone who would get less than 70% on your Facebook how well do you know me quiz, it’s probably TMI.

 5.       Do not post anything online out of anger, fear, after more than one drink or after 10 pm whichever comes first. 

 6.       Righteous indignation, no matter how passionate and heartfelt, always comes off closer to raving lunatic.

 7.       If you are uncomfortable, you’ll never pull it off. Don’t even try to overcome it.  So just be uncomfortable and move on.  It will pass as soon as you let it.

 The real key to communicating authentically is understanding what you are saying really well, then saying it as clearly and simply as possible.  This takes a lot more work and a lot more time than knocking off a few lines at the keyboard or flying by the seat of your pants.  It often requires editing, polishing, feedback and rethinking—all things that are often absent in online publishing.

 Bottom line (Get it?  Bottom . . . line?):

 Authenticity is both knowing what you are talking about and saying it really well.

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