Being your authentic self at work - do you need permission?

Updated: Jun 26

There is a lot of talk about being your ‘true self’ at work and the benefits this brings, both to you as the employee but also on team performance, and the organisation overall. But if there isn’t an environment which encourages this openness, is it still possible to be your true self?


What’s in it for us?

There is plenty of research into the benefits of embracing our true selves at work; increased empathy, better relationships, improved listening and communication but also, when reciprocated, a greater level of trust. Trust enables vulnerability and this, in turn, opens up a whole realm of possibilities which allow us to think bigger, bolder and generate new and exciting ideas. You exude passion, you work with more energy and creativity. You enjoy what you do and this motivates others. You share and celebrate successes and you learn (and bounce back) from failures, faster. When in this environment, everyone wins.


What holds us back?

In an ideal world, every employer would create a culture where employees are encouraged to bring their whole self to work - with all their thoughts, feelings and ideas. However, this isn’t always the case.


I think it’s fair to say that most of us hide parts of ourselves in different situations (opting for a ‘work self’ and a ‘home self’). We fear what others think, we are embarrassed by our opinions, we stay quiet when we really want to speak up, we hold something back in case we’re not ‘good enough’, we dress in a particular way to ‘fit in’.


There are multiple reasons why we do this (for fear of not being good enough, not being liked, to please others, for fear of sounding unintelligent) but in the end, what is it achieving? Not only is it exhausting to constantly switch personas, it becomes an impossible guessing game of trying to be who you think you ‘should’ be. Keeping up appearances to that extent takes energy, hard work and commitment and in the end drains the life from you and your relationships.


I accept that this type of culture is still fairly rare. If your organisation is not yet talking about authentic selves or psychological safety, it is still worth exploring what your authentic self might look like. Have you considered who your ‘work self’ and ‘home self’ is? What are the differences? At which times and in which scenarios does each of them appear more dominant? How does each of those serve you? What is the detrimental effect of each of them?


Exploring why we hold certain parts back provides valuable insight into the reasons why we are uncomfortable in showing that part of our self. This is a useful starting point when attempting a more authentic ‘you’ at work.


Bring you and all of you

We’ve a long way to go in getting comfortable with our true selves at work. Some companies are doing it well and reaping the benefits. Wouldn’t it be amazing to not have to worry about saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question? Instead, to know that any contribution would be met with support, encouragement and curiosity from those around you.


You may not have the environment yet, but it is possible to work towards understanding who you are and your authentic self.


Gemma Brown is a certified coach who works with successful women, 1-2-1 and in groups, to identify their strengths and build confidence which enables them to have the self-belief to fearlessly bring their whole being into all areas of life. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page.

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