Have you ever heard someone proudly proclaim some version of Popeye’s phrase? It’s most often said to justify themselves right after they’ve said something tactless, or even offensive. Or they might say something like “what you see is what you get”, or “I tell it like it is.”
People who think this way pride themselves on being brutally honest, as if brutality is a badge of honor.
If I wanted to be brutally honest with them, I would ask them if they were born a–holes, of if they just work hard at it. But of course I don’t, because that kind of brutal honesty, while it might make me feel good, would not help the situation.
The only time to be brutally honest is when you want to hurt someone, when you want to demean that person, or bludgeon them into submission, or prove how much smarter and better you are. I suppose there could be times that would be appropriate, but it’s hard to imagine situations in professional life where that’s going to result in the ideal outcome.
People who talk this way think it displays an admirable independence of spirit, some personal toughness that allows them to be authentic despite social pressures to conform.
What it really displays is a lack of concern for others, selfishness and crass personal manners.
It may also display laziness and/or helplessness. For example, the person who says she’s just not a people person, that she doesn’t play the political game, may just be masking an unwillingness or genuine inability to master the skills needed to work smoothly with others.
Or, they could be laboring under the misimpression that they are stuck with the personality traits they were born with. They think that if they are introverted or analytics, or drivers, or INTJs, or any other label they’ve learned to accept, that their behavior is channeled into a narrow path defined by who they are. Any behavior that crosses those boundaries is “inauthentic”, thus automatically wrong.
Is it “inauthentic” to be tactful? Is it inauthentic to express your ideas so that the other person can best understand your meaning? Is it inauthentic to try to see the world through their eyes? When you look at it this way, inauthenticity is actually a sign of maturity. What makes us effective and influential as adults in a professional environment is precisely our ability to be inauthentic, to dress up our inner selves to go out in public.
Can you go against your normal tendencies if it will leave everyone better off? Clearly, the answer is yes. Just as you choose what to wear depending on where you’re going or what you’re doing, you can choose what to say, how to say it, and what to do. Think about it from the perspective of the other person: they only know who you are by what you say and do. Fortunately, those are the only things you can control; whether you choose to do so is up to you.
It’s a simple choice: be “authentic” or be effective.