Ever since I was quoted in the January 21 New York Times, I’ve been in conversations with several reporters and others on the topic of authenticity. In case you didn’t see the article, my comments had to do with Hillary Clinton’s communication style in her video announcing that she was planning to run for president. (You can also read my FC blog post for more on the topic.) I said, basically, that if she could persuade voters that her new style was authentic, they’d have a hard time remembering the old Hillary. Boy, did that open a can of worms!
But I’m glad it did. It forced me to think and especially write about it, which I find always crystallizes my thoughts and makes things easier to explain. I will say I found it vexing, though. Part of that is due to the fact that the very word “authentic” is wide open to interpretation.
So I did what I always do when I’m in a semantic pickle – I called on an expert. This time it was the brilliant motivational speaker, Glenna Salsbury. I have only recently gotten to know Glenna, but we have forged a connection, which, I am discovering, is part and parcel of the authenticity equation.
Glenna’s take is that authenticity in communication derives from the heart. She has a word for it, too: Intention. When heart intention is aligned with the message, the better we are at communicating it. If, however, the underlying message comes from a place of falsehood, the audience will know the difference. They may not be able to measure it or even put their finger on it, but somewhere, deep down, they will feel it and recognize it for what it is. As a result, that communication effort is likely to fail.
Think about people – bosses, colleagues, family members – who inspire and motivate you. I’ll bet that these are people who speak and communicate with intention. They let you in and they’re into you. You may not be privy to their innermost feelings, but you feel there’s something special there, you feel a connection. They also have performance technique; they know how to channel their feelings through the way they look and sound. Now think about people whom you just find toxic. See where I’m going with this?
The fact is, for a message to truly hit its target, the sender of the message — the message conduit — must touch the receiver. (Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs come to mind.) It’s hard not to get excited by such communicators. We endlessly hear about being passionate about work. That is all well and good, but if the communicator cannot actually summon the passion, there will be a noticeable deficit, a connection will not be made. We see it all the time, don’t we, people speaking, spewing facts and figures without a hint of the stake they have in what they are saying or what it means to us? (Al Gore and John Kerry, anybody?)
My equation for authenticity picks up on Glenna’s: Intention (feelings) + Technique (performance skills) = Authenticity. How’s that for all you linear thinkers out there?