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The first step to being authentic - realizing when you're mimicking

A couple of weeks ago when I was getting advice from someone about negotiating, he said "remember to be authentic".

The phrase stuck with me, but I didn't think about it in much depth.

It came back to me today in another context. It helped that I was vacation for a week, so I was looking at work (and how I work) with fresh-ish eyes.

  • In a meeting today, I found myself suddenly stepping back and looking at my behavior.  I wasn't acting like I was when I ran meetings a couple of years ago, but it was suspiciously like someone I used to work with a year ago.
  • Earlier in the day, I was having a slightly tense discussion with someone and I found my tone suddenly sharp, hesitating on my words to use and being suddenly passive aggressive - something uncharacteristic to me - and so immediately also unpleasant for me. I realized I was simply matching the tone of the person I was having a discussion with. 

In both cases I was mimicking - copying behaviors I'd seen before in similar context.
  • In the first case, I was copying someone I thought was extremely effective in that context 
  • In the second case, I simply mirroring the behavior of the person that had initiated the context
These aren't necessarily bad things. In fact, it's how most people act. It just isn't necessarily the most effective or the most pleasant thing long term.

Why isn't it the most pleasant?
Let's go to Gandhi for this one:
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

If you're mimicking style or substance, it's likely you're departing from what you'd usually say or think.

Why isn't it the most effective?
  1. In the second case, its pretty obvious - mimicking sub-optimal behavior is, well... sub-optimal
  2. In the first case, this might even be good. If you're emulating a pattern you know worked, it could be very effective. However, ultimately if the pattern doesn't feel like yours (or you don't work on it till it does) it may not be as effective. 
So what do you do about it?
  1. Recognize the mimicking - knowing is half the battle
  2. Think hard (ideally before you're in those situations) about how you'd ideally act
  3. Watch yourself during these situations - being aware and present allows you the chance to change what you don't like
I'm mid-way through (2) right now on a couple of these situations. :-)



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