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Giving – and taking – feedback: The harsh truth behind honesty and authenticity

By Amanda Davie, founder

September 28, 2015 | 4 min read

We all need feedback. Whether we like what we hear, or not.

Amanda Davie

Clients say they want the truth yet they sometimes don't act upon it; some employees quit when you them the truth; some employers tell you only what you need to know (in their opinion) and suppliers tell you their technology solution will remove all delivery pains (clearly they aren't telling the truth!).

Whether it's the truth or not we all hear what we want to hear. But do we behave how we want to behave? Honestly?...

Throughout my career people have told me that I am very honest. My insecurities perceive this feedback as negative, as criticism – I am too honest. And it's true: I have hurt people with my words, and I have turned down business because I didn't agree with a client's values.

And yet, despite being 'guilty as charged', this feedback makes me feel angry because in my book there is no such thing as being too honest.

I have also been told that I am authentic. This, compared to my interpretation of honesty, feels like a more positive trait. So what's the difference, then, between honesty and authenticity?

I have been pondering this differentiation a lot recently, in my studies of the Gestalt phenomenon, of our 'way of being', which shows up a lot in business coaching. And I have concluded that honesty is telling the truth, whereas authenticity is being our truth. In other words being true to ourselves.

How much honesty and authenticity is around you at work? And who cares? How important is it, in the cut-throat, superficial industry in which we work?

Here's the business case: people buy people. The currency is trust. Is trust engendered by telling the truth? Yes. But what if the truth isn't in the business or the client's best interests? Aah. Here's where our moral compass starts to shift. Find a compromise. Find another solution. Try to do the right thing by all parties. Granted, it's hard. And we all have to make money. But be determined. There is always a way.

Here is the people case: who you are is how you are. If you don't stay true to yourself, to your values or your beliefs, you start to feel uncomfortable in your skin. You start to feel compromised. You start to become someone you're not. This happens so slowly, so gradually, that most of us barely notice a difference. Until years later when you barely recognise yourself. You are angry, unhappy, stressed and anxious. You quit. Or you get ill.

The next time someone - an employer, a client - asks you to do something you're not comfortable doing just take a moment to dig out your moral compass. What do I think about that? How will my actions compromise me? How will that make me feel? How will other people respond?

Telling the truth, couched in kindness, is a bi-factor of authenticity. Being authentic is far harder. But life is hard. And life is short. I will leave you with a morbid thought: what do you want your gravestone to read? "Here lies Amanda, she always tried to stay true to herself"; or "Here lies Amanda, she was a fake and a coward".

Amanda Davie is a digital business advisor and executive coach

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