We recently had a fascinating discussion about authenticity with a small grouping of delegates during an internal communication skills course. We’d identified in early stages that all the participants attending the two-day programme had received a 360-degree feedback suggesting that they could take advantage of tools and techniques to produce their communication skills. Anyone in the group felt that, while they were keen to boost their skills being authentic while communicating at work was the main thing. They then added that they would feel inauthentic if they were to consciously use their gestures in a way that could influence someone. This prompted us to pause and ask the group if they would be thinking about us facilitating an exploration into the meaning of the term authenticity. They unanimously agreed and so we kicked off by asking the following question:

“Do you think there is a difference between how you feel, think and behave if you are at home with your family, out with friends and at work with colleagues?”

While everyone in this kind of group agreed there was indeed a difference, most felt they behaved authentically while communicating at work. This then prompted the question, which of the feelings and behaviours were most authentic to anyone; all of them perhaps? This was only a little trickier as it was clear from a number of the feedback the delegates in the area had received from a current 360 that their authentic behavior wasn’t necessarily making the required impact. The objective for the remaining portion of the session then shifted towards how we might identify that is our authentic self and how to then consciously make use of a communication skills technique without losing authenticity. What happened next?

Think, can of worms and a jar opener!

We started by taking a look at how we might are more aware of how we use the 4 dimensions (body, heart, mind and intention) to state ourselves. Once we are clear about any of it we can begin to understand that there are actually many selves behind what may seem like one personality. At the very least four in many cases.

Let’s start in what we might believe is our authentic physical self. It’s a well known fact that we inherit 50% of our genes from our Mothers and the other 50% from our fathers therefore the self we call our body is entirely inherited. We are basically physical reproductions of our parents. The biggest thing to understand about that is that the genes we’ve inherited contain memories. You may have heard about muscle memory in sport, well the same relates to the genetic memory inherent in the formation of the body in vitro. Most of the memories that inform the method leading to the form, size and quality of our physical organs is within the genes we inherit and are caused by our ancestors’ social and environmental experiences and behaviours. Recent studies in epigenetics have revealed precisely how important genetic inheritance could be when it comes to our health and well-being and that of our children. So, what does it mean to be authentically ourselves physically when we’ve inherited someone else’s parts of the body?

Now let’s explore how we might develop into a slightly different person once we become emotional. People will often claim that after a particularly emotional episode – this might have involved either feeling extremely happy or ecstatic to feeling sad or angry – they felt like they’d been hijacked by another personality. That is essentially because our emotions are a mix of inherited dispositions, learned behaviours and also our own unique responses to the life span conditions and experiences we’ve been born into help with being authentic. Each important stage of life is marked by certain emotional benchmarks, infancy to childhood and puberty to adulthood. Each of these stages could have featured both positive and negative experiences that set down some fairly stubborn and habitual, emotional responses that can be very hard to break. So, are we always authentically being ourselves emotionally? Which is your true and authentic emotional self?

The intellectual dimension can be subject to the vagaries of our genetic inheritance. Although this isn’t necessarily fixed for life. Research into brain plasticity has revealed which our thinking style could be altered and with practice and regular brain workouts we can increase our intellectual capacity. However, our genes combined with the quality of our education will influence the development of a personality that is founded on our own knowledge of the world. The process with this personality is that it will often be a mix of learned traditions and rules plus our own interpretation of the info we’ve been required to understand and accept. It’s probably safe to assume that most people are behaving authentically when communicating their information about the world. After all, it’s what they believe to be true.

Which neatly brings us to the fourth dimension of self-expression. The Intentional self. Here is the personality that forms around our deepest values and beliefs about life, the universe and everything. For instance, while at work you could professionally execute all of the tasks required of your job role but your ‘intention’ is to have through the day avoiding your boss or certain colleagues and escape the building as quickly as possible. In this instance you may well be ‘doing’ a job of work that doesn’t utilize all of your skills, working for a manager who doesn’t value you or recognize or acknowledge your potential and perhaps your role isn’t offering you the opportunities you think you deserve. In this example your intentional self is probably the most authentic expression of what and who you are. You may well be ‘doing’ your job well but your ‘being’- gestures and emotional responses to others you work with – will be expressing your ‘authentic’ intentions. In this case if you communicate anything other than what you genuinely intend you may well be perceived as behaving in-authentically – perhaps without even realizing it. Here is the time and energy to reset your intentions and consciously choose a different authentic you that will assist you better. It might be that you can tap into the authentic you that enjoys the physical part of the task or begin to explore and expand your authentic emotional self. How might you feel authentically more in touch with your emotions in a way that benefits both your colleagues and customers? Perhaps your intellectual self could offer more to your boss than you currently share. What impact might that have?

As we consciously determine which self to state, when, to whom and how, we can begin to integrate all 4 dimensions in a circulation of ‘being’ that increases our feeling of authenticity.