As I was reading Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, the concept of authenticity became more clear to me. I want to share what I discovered with you.
To me, authenticity has been one of those things that I’ve “known when I see it,” but has been difficult for me to define succinctly.
Rob Brotherton, author of Suspicious Minds, was discussing known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns to highlight the fact that we often overestimate our knowledge on any given topic. He cited an example we’ve all experienced where we were stating confidently our position on a topic only to have someone ask a question that left us feeling “stranded, like Wile E. Coyote, in midair.”
As soon as read that, I realized that authenticity is the ability to say “I don’t know” in situations like the one just described. And that takes confidence.
In situations in which we’ve made a mistake or find ourselves facing questions for which we don’t have answers, our natural tendency is to put a spin on our mistake or try to create an answer from thin air. These natural responses are designed to help us protect our egos and retain credibility with those involved.
These are automatic responses which, in and of themselves, do not bespeak a person’s level of confidence. Even the most confident among us experience these inclinations. The real test is what the person does after experiencing these natural tendencies.
The less-confident among us will respond by putting a spin on their mistake or attempt to craft an answer when they don’t have one readily available. Conversely, the truly confident set aside these inclinations and readily admit “I don’t know.”
Admitting that you don’t know doesn’t have to end the conversation. During a presentation on confidence, an audience member stated that she was aware that body language was a way to communicate confidence. She wanted to know whether there were certain ways of holding the body that might help convey confidence when a person didn’t feel confident.
I had not been asked that question before and indeed did feel like Wile E. Coyote. I stated that I didn’t know, but if the audience didn’t mind I’d think out loud. The audience was gracious in allowing me to do so.
As I began to analyze the question aloud, I realized that if a person is focused on appearing confident their actions would indicate that they weren’t being authentic, that they were trying to convey something they weren’t feeling. In doing so, they’d come across as disingenuous. I went on to say that the more natural their actions were in light of their personal style, the more authentic and more confident they would appear.
Based on audience reaction to this response, they viewed me as confident and authentic. The fact that I was willing to admit I didn’t have an immediate answer indicated that I’m confident, as did my willingness to “think out loud.” My authenticity was evident because I didn’t try to protect my ego by “making something up.” As a result, the response I shared with them was more credible and easier for them to embrace.
Both confidence and its byproduct, authenticity, enable us to quickly gain others’ trust. We are all fortunate to be blessed with a BS meter. We know when people are putting a spin on things or trying to hide their lack of knowledge. They lose credibility (our trust) each time they do so. That leaves us with a binary choice, you can either earn others’ trust or lose it. Use your confidence to be authentic and you’ll automatically gain others’ trust.
The next time that you don’t know, say so. By doing so, you demonstrate confidence and become recognized and trusted for your authenticity.
For our kids
First, live the message. Kids have the same, maybe even more finely tuned BS meter, than adults. By living the message kids will see the benefits of openly admitting their mistakes and saying “I don’t know.”
Second, as you see your kids exhibiting both confidence and authenticity, congratulate them on their personal strength and confidence. The more frequently they get recognized for these qualities, the more frequently they’ll live them.
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, share your wisdom in a comment.
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