Authentic is problematic.
Of late, being authentic is all the rage. Whatever definition you provide to that, it seems every #SoMe mouthpiece has a perspective that says, thou shalt be authentic.
In the office world – that is to say, political world – being authentic in the raw take-me-as-I-am sense may induce others to not take you at all. If you are authentically crude, time-challenged, a poor listener, et al., you’ll probably not make it through the waves of pre-hire scrutiny much less land the position. Yet, if you do become hired and in your desire to be yourself (“authenticity” is merely the latest label in a line of descendants from the beat generation, hippies and the Me generation) actually show up and offend people with your person or personality, well that won’t work either.
Is there a different stance?
On the other side of authenticity we have insincerity. People who submerge themselves in a mask of acquiescence to the point where their very being is not notable or noticed. Vapid and obsequious these people are seldom taken seriously for they are, as we pointed out, seldom a factor.
In less PC days we called them yes-men, or ass kissers, or any other derivative meaning they had no spine, sense or stance. Few if any knew what they were like away from the office so maybe they were authentically spineless all the time. Who knows, but this model won’t work either.
As the work model moves ever forward to a more collaborative one, the need for agreement within a hierarchical strain is lessened as the real value of work is the creative output stresses and conflict produce.
So what to do?
Let’s talk about something few B schools bother to address: tact. Why we don’t teach this I don’t know. Perhaps as a “social skill” the sciences deride its value but work is a social place. Tact is a necessary skill, not just a desired one. Remember your recruiting days when you asked hiring managers about “have to have” skills and “nice to have”?
Tact is a have to have.
Tact is the art of choosing what and when to respond to things. Should your boss makes an egregious statement in a meeting – do you challenge her in front of the group? Depending on the nature of the issue, maybe yes, maybe no. A fundamental challenge to the cultural values has to be addressed while a simple error on a calendar date can be fixed privately. And even when the issue has to be addressed when is the best time to do so? We can be authentic and true to ourselves even when we opt to address problems one to one away from the crowd.
Tact is not agreement nor acquiescence. In fact its a higher order skill enabling you to ignore the many things that don’t matter at the office, to concentrate on the critical few. Remember that phrase? Deming taught it to the world 60 years ago.
Developing your sense of tact allows you to ignore the noise in the workplace to concentrate on the very things that will make a difference and drive your business forward, and to do using the appropriate forum, time and media. Tact is authentic: it is simply knowing how to be authentic with less ego and self-centeredness. Less “look at me” and more “let’s solve this together.”
Tact is what drives collaboration in a world with fewer boundaries and precepts. Try some today.