We hear a lot of people talking about authenticity. Certainly, authenticity as a form of honesty is a desirable trait, but when someone talks about authenticity, what do they mean?
Dictionary.com defines authentic as “not false or copied; genuine; real or reliable; trustworthy”.
Like many other words, authentic has become a fad word and, as such, is at risk of losing its meaning. (Think of words like awesome, cool, and more recently epic.)
Authenticity can take many forms. We can authentic with ourselves, our family members, our friends, and our colleagues at work. This post is about authenticity in the workplace with our colleagues, our customers and end users, and our professional associates.
Authenticity Gurus, Seriously?
Social media gurus (many of them self-anointed) proclaim the importance of being your authentic self. In a 2011 article in the New York Times, Jeff Pooley, an associate professor of media and communication at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., said, “What you can’t do is be told by a social media guru to act authentic and still be authentic.” He went on to make the paradoxical comment that, “authenticity today is more accurately described as “calculated authenticity” — a k a stage management.”
How does authenticity fit in today’s workplace and, more specifically, what role does authenticity play in IT? Additionally, is it possible to go too far with authenticity, especially in the workplace?
Customer Service Scripts (Ewwww!)
Many of us have called customer service and realized that the agent was simply reading a script. It would be comical, if it weren’t pathetic, to hear some poor customer service agent or technical support person reading “I apologize for that. I can assure you I’m going to take care of it for you.” This is a classic case of the absence of authenticity. It’s obvious to the customer and, frankly, disrespectful and insulting.
In survey after survey, respondents say when they call customer service or technical support, the most important result they’re seeking is to have their problem solved and then to be treated respectfully.
Being True to Yourself
At the same time, I’ve had tech support reps tell me that they have to be true to themselves, that they can’t be someone they’re not. Successful people understand that different situations call for different language and different behavior. For example, we dress differently to attend a wedding than we do to play softball. Members of the wedding party dress differently than the guests. In a job interview, if you’re smart, you dress up and speak differently to the interviewer than you do to your friends at a bar. People who want to be successful tailor their appearance and communication style appropriately to the situation and the people with whom they’re speaking. People who are blatantly honest all the time, who don’t tailor what they say and how they say it based on the situation are off-putting and just rude.
It’s a Matter of Tailoring Communication Styles
I think the key, in the workplace, including tech support and customer service interactions, is to speak and act with the customer or end user in the same way we would speak or act with someone for whom we have great respect and admiration. After all, the person with whom we’re interacting is the reason we have our jobs. That alone should earn a level of respectful behavior. It’s not a matter of feeling respect for the customer or end user. We may or may not feel such respect. It’s a matter of us acting in a respectful manner.
Five Rules for Authentic Authenticity
So, to be authentically authentic, here are five rules:
- Lose the scripts. If you’re required to follow them, do so to avoid getting in trouble and try to make them more believable by understanding the motivation behind their use. If you’re a manager who requires your customer service staff to read from prepared scripts, consider instead providing human relations or interpersonal communication training to your staff to empower them to deal with customers and end users as one human to another. It’s okay to have scripts as examples of how you hope customer and end user interactions will play out. Just don’t require your agents to follow them verbatim.
- In the workplace, use a more conservative style of communication. Incorporate good manners using please and thank you, no sir and yes ma’am.
- Limit apologies to situations where they’re appropriate, such as where your company or department made a mistake or in the event of the failure of a product or service which was provided by your company or department. Make an apology when you realize one is called for and again at the end of the call or session, but don’t keep apologizing over and over. When you do, you lose credibility and, frankly, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
- Tailor your communication style and dress to the situation. People dress differently in a law firm than at a surf shop and they speak differently, too. It’s not that one is right and the other wrong, they’re just different.
- Think before you speak. Ask yourself, before speaking, if what you’re about to say will help or hinder the situation at hand. If it’s not going to help, don’t say it.
Being authentic doesn’t mean saying everything that’s on your mind. It means being genuine, reliable, and trustworthy, all desirable traits. In fact, I hope, when people think of you and me, they use words like genuine, reliable, and trustworthy.
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