Have you ever had a job interview or sales meeting fall through and you weren't sure why? Within the first moments of an encounter, people begin making judgments about whether a partnership is possible and feels right, whether a candidate is a good fit, or whether to purchase a product or subscribe to a service.
Think back to that meeting that quickly fell apart. What did you do to make them judge you so unfavorably?
Often that foggy reason for why things didn't go as expected comes down to authenticity. A professional meeting is not that much different from a personal one. People can sense when there's something energetically "off" with the other person, even if they can't articulate exactly what it is.
When you show up authentically and in alignment with who you are and what you stand for, you have a powerful and positive presence. When you're unsure of yourself, you display physical discomfort. Stammering, looking worried and other pantomimes convey a more powerful message than what we are actually saying.
Your words say "hire me," but your body language says "don't trust me."
Beneath the Surface
Looking clean and professional can cast a great first impression, but before long most people look past that. Within seconds of an interpersonal exchange, we are reading, interpreting and judging based on all kinds of information -- the least of which is coming through in the words being spoken or a polished physical appearance. Someone may be well-dressed, but their words and energy must be a match. Alarms go off when people seem uncomfortable in their own skin.
Even a not-so-savvy professional can detect when others try to show up as something they are not. They sense it when we try to say the right things versus what's true -- what we think the interviewer or potential client wants to hear. The more we try to impress, the less impressive we are.
The Hairless Ape
When conversations fall apart, there's something going on behind the scenes -something that has been part of our mammalian biology for millions of years. What once ensured our survival now works against us. Knowing how to recognize these mechanisms is important, but knowing how to turn them off can mean the difference between success and failure.
Humans are considered the most advanced species on Earth, but we still utilize structures and functions that evolved millions of years ago solely to keep us safe. These primal functions sometimes conflict with what is best for us in the context of the modern world.
When a job candidate sits down at an interview, they can feel threatened and fearful that they may not get the job. They may feel that their very survival is at risk. This reaction once had a necessary biological function -- namely, to shut down every other part of the brain to focus on keeping the person alive and safe. You may start thinking, What if I don't get this job? What will my partner say when I come home again with bad news?
The reptilian brain can take over and you become focused on the consequences instead of the experience. You focus on a future desired outcome and forget your presence at the table.
Despite your best intentions to have an open, fluid conversation about your skills and goals and why you're a good fit for the company, the primal functions of your brain hijack you and send your focus to a place where you become disconnected. Fear comes online and you try unsuccessfully to sound profound. Your fear triggers a fight or flight response and you become less intelligent, more emotional and more reactive.
Remember to Breathe
When you're calm, you're using your more evolved frontal lobe. You are connected to truth, you are at ease and tapped in to creativity. Those are the ingredients of an enjoyable conversation where one person becomes curious about the other and is excited for the potential relationship being tested.
When the interview (and you) begin to devolve, it takes some practice to not go where your paleomammalian brain is pulling you. There are practices you can do to stay focused, balanced and logical in the face of adversity. Stop and take a deep breath. Connect with your body to get rid of the fearful thoughts swirling in your head.
You may be asked questions to determine your culture fit, skills and abilities, but interviewers want a sense of who you are. Will you have the creativity and linguistic ability to handle a stressful situation once you're hired, or will everything crumble before you?
Who am I?
If you are able to be yourself and have a successful interview, other barriers to authenticity may arise during your tenure at a company. People often believe they must show up as a different version of themselves when they enter the office every morning. This can lead to deep dissatisfaction within themselves. With time and increased dissonance, all of the colors begin to dull, and a work environment you once loved starts to feel like prison.
The reason people create such a huge disparity between their work and personal lives is a high degree of fear. People feel that if they are themselves, they will be rejected or fail professionally. Don't go too far to conform to an expectation of showing up at work in a way that is really only inside your head. You may think you want a different job or office environment, but you could have that satisfaction now by gradually opening up more of your true self in your work relationships and work life.
Being authentic can be quite tricky, since it doesn't always mean showing every aspect of yourself in a professional setting. But by being aware of yourself and respecting the greater cultural context, you can build immediate trust with managers and colleagues so as not to alienate those who don't know you. You can then strip those social norms over time.
Relax and let go of fear. Whether you're attempting to land your dream job or forge great relationships with colleagues or customers, feeling at home inside your own self matters most. And what matters most to others is knowing they can trust that you are who you say you are.