Today I had a brief chat with one of my supervisors, JM, about being a practitioner. And authenticity came up again.
I was telling JM that the more I read, I less I knew, and the more uncertainty there is. I was reviewing literature on diversity training in order to design a diversity workshop, but there’s inconclusive evidence of the effectiveness of the training. When you’re a trainer on a topic, people expect you to be an expert, but firstly, I don’t even feel like I am one (yet?). Moreover, you would think that there is evidence that what you’re going to do works. Why do it if it doesn’t work? Also, how would I sell myself to people who need problems solved or workshop designed if I have this “well, I could do something for you but I’m not sure if it’ll work” attitude.
But then JM said, “What did Block say?” “Block” is Peter Block, the author for our consulting book. I actually didn’t know what JM was talking about so I stayed silent (silence works, by the way). Then, JM said, “He said, ‘Be authentic.’ If you’re not 100% sure, that’s ok. At least your clients will know that you’re being honest with them. And once you become 100% on something, they’ll know you’re for sure.”
(Note: obviously profs, especially JM, don’t talk like that, but that’s how I’m paraphrasing it.)
That’s pretty insightful. However, JM has a tenured job in academia. So, when he goes out looking for consulting jobs, it’s almost like he wants to challenge and entertain himself (I think). But when I have zero credentials and I go out there and say, “I’m not sure if this is going to work” to potential clients, I don’t think it’ll fly.
I just remembered that this issue of being authentic also came up with I did my run-through for the emotional intelligence (EI) workshop I am facilitating. I was so caught up in getting my “facilitation skills” right and that I had everything verbatim that I came across really unauthentic. My peers were concerned that, although my content was great, I wasn’t practicing what I preached, which was actually to “be authentic”! JLM said, “It doesn’t matter whether you use the facilitation skills or not. What matters is whether the students get a good experience. I think what would hurt you more is you not being yourself and not saying things like ‘crap’ than you being yourself and saying ‘crap’.”
Because I am a very informal person by nature (have you heard my “gangsta” talk?), I fear that I won’t come across sounding professional enough and that I’ll use inappropriate words. Luckily, at least with the group I am facilitating for EI, I can get away with saying things like “crap” and still be credible and respected…IF I can be authentic.
I think it’s about balance. Obviously the goal is to become more comfortable with the facilitation skills so that I can use them naturally, but for now, it’s balancing who I am with what I should do and give the best experience both to the participants and myself.