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The Persuasiveness of Authenticity

Last week, I did a presentation for a group in New York City, the Metro Round Table. It’s comprised of high level business owners and service professionals who meet to network and refer business to each other. My topic was persuasion and I asked if anyone had been receiving holiday greetings by email. A few hands went up. Then I did something I rarely do. I firmly said that in my professional opinion, sending these types of greetings was worse than doing nothing and I hoped no one was offended by my statement.

I had received a few of these emailed greetings myself and found them so off-putting I didn’t even open some of them.

My professional judgment is that emailed holiday greetings defeat the purpose of this kind of outreach. They’re impersonal and too easy to do which, in our pressure cooker world, is perhaps the point. But when the medium overwhelms the message, it’s time to dial it back. A greeting, especially at this time of year, and especially this year, should be all about meaning and have the personal touch.

To sort it all out, for the past few years, I’ve created custom cards and I include a personal, handwritten note on each one along with my signature and those of my staff. The designs and messages are consistent with my brand. Recipients have told me they begin to anticipate my cards around Thanksgiving. That means they’re thinking about me even before the card arrives. It differentiates me. Such an effort takes planning and a good deal of time. If I am going to go to the trouble of sending a holiday greeting, however, then it should count for something, otherwise it’s an empty gesture. It’s inauthentic.

In addition, stating my strong opinion about emailed holiday greetings was an honest and heartfelt effort to help my audience become more effective at persuasion, which is exactly what they were looking for. My statement was authentic and as a result, good feelings prevailed. The presentation was a success and my graphic designer got some new business, too.

The Key to Authenticity is Intention

According to the superb motivational speaker (and personal friend), Glenna Salsbury, for a person to be truly authentic, there has to be intention – the heart must be aligned with the message. Glenna helps her audiences get to intention by asking a simple question, “What is your purpose?

Finding one’s purpose is, of course, the million-dollar question, but once that feat is achieved, the task turns to coupling it with performance, regardless of the field. The resulting authenticity permits us to do our absolute best and arrive at a place where what we do feels easy and right. Fear takes a back seat and we are able to take more risks. When it all comes together, there is a sense of inner peace and confidence that is obvious and very attractive to outsiders.

This is also a place of mastery, which, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his new book, Outliers, takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain.

So, if you are going to spend 10,000 hours mastering something, shouldn’t it be the right thing, the authentic thing?

Finding Purpose Takes Many Forms

Today, there is legitimate fear  – of losing a job, a livelihood, health insurance, a home, one’s life savings. The stakes are huge and so we are reluctant to stick our necks out. But this is exactly the wrong approach. Difficult times are when finding purpose and the authenticity it fosters are needed most! While it may be impractical to quit your job to help build houses for the less fortunate (if that is your purpose), you could volunteer some of your time with a non-profit. I have sat on a board of a non-profit organization for the past 10 years, the Women’s Business Development Center. Though it’s a charitable organization, it has given back to me in ways I never could have imagined. It has provided me with a professional group of likeminded people who are all working toward the same goal: providing women with the education and training to start their own businesses, so they can feed their families and become economically independent. Every time a WBDC client opens her door for business, I feel a sense of pride and joy, knowing I helped make it happen.

Another route to purpose is to indulge a hobby. Some of you may not know that I majored in classical voice as an undergraduate. After I ended my professional singing career, I joined one of those big community choirs. For 3 hours every Tuesday night, I was swept away by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers. Let me tell you, you cannot think of anything else when you’re trying to conquer some of that music! I also starred in a local community theatre production, which was great fun (and made it much easier to keep the weight off that winter :-)).

Although business and personal responsibilities have prevented me from continuing with musical and theatrical activities, today, I keep Friday afternoons open to teach classical voice to a handful of high school students. I do it purely for the pleasure of watching young singers come to love and appreciate music and performance as much as I do (and with a teenager at home, I get to keep my finger on the pulse of teenage life). I wish you could see me when my students get up to perform – I breathe with them and mouth the words. I am transported completely.

All of these things are aligned with my purpose and authentically me. They have opened up new business areas, too, such as voice training and speaking on that topic. What can you do – or are you already doing – that will help you find your purpose and awaken your authentic self?

Truth and Honesty:  Authenticity’s Touchstones

In looking for a quote on authenticity to use for this newsletter, the same two words kept coming up: Truth and honesty. So a question to ask yourself if you are looking for ways to increase your authenticity is, “Am I being truthful?” Opportunities for truthfulness abound in our complicated world. If you are a boss, truthfulness about business conditions will work wonders to calm an anxious staff. If you are a business owner or entrepreneur, clients pay you for truth. And if you are an employee, though the truth may be more difficult to navigate depending upon your position in the organization, starting with some smaller truths may give you the footing you need to build the trust necessary to deliver some of the bigger ones. And, of course, be truthful with yourself. Easier said than done, I know.

But what if no one wants to hear the so-called truth? Or what if your truth is not the same as the person you’re telling it to? Is it really possible for there to be multiple truths? In many cases, yes. We all filter everything through a particular lens, unique to each of us, shaped by experiences and not shared by anyone else. Recognizing this is one of communication’s most significant imperatives. So as we seek the truth and thus, authenticity, remember to approach it gingerly, and with plenty of compassion and empathy.
And by the way, truth and honesty aren’t always about bad news. For many reasons, however, we aren’t as inclined to speak out about good news as we are about bad. This season, make it a point to change that. Be generous with your compliments. Say them out loud. If others overhear, all the better. Resolve to increase your authenticity in 2009.

As the saying goes, “We live in interesting times.” Truthfulness, honesty, genuineness, purpose and, ultimately, authenticity can only make things more interesting. And I think the more interesting, the better.

Copyright 2008 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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