Being “authentic” at work is a good thing, but consider tempering it with a bit of old-fashioned discretion.
You’ve probably heard about it: On-the-job “authenticity” is all the rage. We are told to “bring our whole selves” to work. Even stodgy corporations are encouraging people to drop their professional veneers in favor of their “real” personalities. No need to check your weirdness at the door. Be yourself!
It sounds fantastic.
But let’s take a moment to consider the downsides.
Your credibility may suffer. Part of the “be yourself” mantra is showing vulnerability. If you are lost, worried or confused, the story goes, you should feel OK about saying so. However, the fact remains that displaying your inadequacies can also make people think you are, well, inadequate. After all, if you don’t have confidence in your abilities, why should anyone else? Of course you don’t have to lie about your location on the learning curve. But you don’t need to badmouth yourself either, especially when taking on new roles or responsibilities. First impressions truly are lasting impressions.
You could fail to advance. Too often people confuse authenticity with doing what makes them feel most comfortable, which can translate to doing what is easiest, which can translate into never growing and learning. It can be tempting to regard one’s deficiencies as “just the way I am.” But if you want to move forward in life you will need to expand your skills, knowledge and abilities.
You could damage your reputation. Some things really do need to stay in Vegas. Regaling your co-workers about how drunk you got over the weekend is being authentic, yes. But there is certainly no way it can make you look good. The same goes for subjects that could be construed as controversial. Some people are just going to look at you differently, forever, after you relate that embarrassing story of what happened at Burning Man last year. When you speak, think about the images you are placing in people’s heads.
Don’t get me wrong. No one is saying that you have to be a phony at work. After all, the boundary between personal life and work life has never been so porous — even if you wanted to, you couldn’t maintain an entirely artificial persona. But you may want to consider that too much honesty and transparency can sometimes be as bad as too little.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at email@example.com.