Keeping Faith in Authenticity

Formal, structured conversations have a particular feeling unlike any other. Think of job interviews. How many have you been a part of – either as the interviewee or one of the interviewers? Remember the tension in the air? The desire to impress? The fear of screwing up? In the executive coaching work I do, role-plays are a regular feature as we practice difficult conversations. One observation that comes up again and again from participants is that it feels nervewracking to practice in a group setting; they want to use the conversational framework we’ve provided but any practice conversation can feel challenging in its own right. Even with the “judgement free zone” guidelines we set up, it can be hard to follow a framework while speaking authentically. When this comes up, I often liken practicing conversations to learning to play a piece of music – the more you practice the piece as its written, the more relaxed you’ll become, and the more comfortable you’ll feel in adding solos, vamping on one piece, and maybe even skipping straight to the chorus. In other words, you’ll find out what works for you in any given situation, and make it your own.

I recently heard from a hiring manager who talked about the worst interview he’d ever conducted. The candidate had come highly recommended, but was so nervous during the interview that they could barely communicate, “like a deer in the headlights.” But the referral source was so strong in their recommendation that the manager – with some trepidation – moved forward with an offer. Within six months the new hire was one of the company’s top performers. Interviews, like role-plays or standardized test, are unnatural situations that some people excel in and some find extremely challenging. But that doesn’t mean they won’t excel in the job they’re interviewing for!

Of course, it’s easier to see someone’s strengths through a bad interview if they come recommended through a source you trust – depending on the situation, this could be seen as nepotism. The key is to look for everyone’s authentic self, through the ‘stage show facade’ that life brings, whether that’s job interviews, role-plays, or the myriad of semi-scripted actions we go through on a daily basis. Seeing someone’s authentic self through the invisible challenges each person is facing in their daily life is a never-finished task, but if it enables us to see past difficulties and help people into situations where they’ll excel, it’s a never-finished task worth taking on.

This Week’s Tip:

Keep faith in authenticity: Make a conscious effort to see past people’s challenges, even if they appear as faults that affect you negatively. Choose to be curious, and ask open-ended wondering questions – to yourself, if not to them. Look for moments of authenticity and realness in others; the kinds of things they reveal when they feel most comfortable, and don’t feel like they’re on show. If you’re interviewing this week, consider that the interview is just one of many components of a candidate’s qualities – look beyond the interviews too. And if you have interactions with people that leave you feeling angry or upset, consider that you don’t know the invisible challenges they are facing, and practice wondering what those challenges might be; you may find that empathy helps to relieve your anger!

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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