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Authenticity at work Part II


In last week’s email, we explored authenticity at work in an (my) attempt to explore what we mean by this term and how we can become “more authentic”.  This week, I wanted to take a look at how and why we adapt and flex our behaviours at work and to think about what this means for our authenticity.

Behaviours – what are they?

Our behaviours are the external manifestation of our whole being.  It can be helpful to think about this using an iceberg analogy.

The top 10% of the iceberg, the visible bit, is our behaviours.  This is the bit that sits above the water for everyone to see.  The 90% of the iceberg which is hidden represents everything else – our values, our upbringing, our experiences, our culture, our beliefs, our purpose, etc.

The stuff below the surface drives our behaviour and because this “below the surface” stuff is different for each of us as individuals, so our behaviours are different.  Our behavioural patterns are each as individual as a snowflake (aw!).

Whilst there are models which can tell us a bit more about our behavioural styles, we shouldn’t see our behaviours as set in stone.  Despite the fact that there is some predictability around our behaviours, they can also be different on different days.

What drives “out-of-character” behaviours?

Whilst the stuff under the surface has a big influence on our behavioural style, it can also drive “spikes” in behaviours that may appear incongruent to an observer.

An example would be when someone accidentally “steps on” one of your values. 

A while ago, I was working with someone who was a natural micro-manager.  He was normally quite good at affording me the autonomy that I need (independence is in my top values).  However, when the business revenues dipped, he started to revert to micro-managing.  My normal behavioural style is quite laid back, affiliative and non-confrontational.  But when my value of independence was “stepped on”, I became assertive and stubborn.

This worked for me.  We were able to openly address his challenging (to me) behaviour and get back to a more harmonious working relationship.

In addition, our behaviours can be influenced by what is happening to us in the moment which could potentially be impacting our emotions and mood.  I can behave quite differently when I’m hungry for example (apparently!).  Or when I’m tired or when something sad has happened. 

These spikes and fluctuations are normal.

Behavioural adaptations and flexibility

Environment and people have a great influence on our behaviours too.  In this previous article on the DISC behavioural model, I talk about adapting our behaviour to suit our environment.  Whilst it’s possible to adapt our behavioural style for short bursts, it is uncomfortable to adapt them significantly and over the long term.

This is where workplace culture is key.  As a people person, with a somewhat extraverted behavioural style, I would not enjoy a process driven work environment with little people interaction – believe me I tried it!  Similarly, a data-driven extravert would find an environment full of people and conversations equally difficult.

This, however, does not mean that we can’t have behavioural flexibility.  Behavioural flexibility occurs when we adapt our behaviour in shorter bursts in order to match (or at least get closer to) other people’s styles.  This helps us to build rapport and influence.

Behavioural flexibility is important and does not mean we’re being inauthentic.  In fact, it is a trait worth developing as it improves relationships a great deal. 

What to do now

I feel that I could write several emails about this topic but am going to rein myself back in now.  The previously mentioned article actually has some good action points so I’m going to leave you with those if you’d like to explore this further:

  • Know yourself: First of all, it is useful to know your behavioural style and be able to know what sort of environment is your best fit.
  • Talk about yourself: Tell your potential colleagues about your behavioural preferences and ask them for their opinions on how you'd fit into the team.
  • Understand dynamics: Understand the similarities and differences between your style and the other styles.  Where do you need to be flexible in style in order to get things done?
  • Call out difference in a positive way: When I work with a detail-oriented introvert, I let them know about my style and how it's different to theirs.  I let them know that I really appreciate their style and how it complements my own.  Ideally, I also get permission that we can call each other out on extremes of behaviour and learn from each other.
  • Look for diversity: The best teams and organisations will have a rich diversity of behavioural styles.  In these environments, they will be more open to different styles and it is naturally easier for you to be yourself.

If you'd like to explore your behavioural style and what it means for you, drop me a line and we can chat about how to do so!

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