November 5, 2015 6:40 pm

authenticityIf politics is your thing, then 2015 has been an interesting year. After the hype of the General Election earlier this year, there were numerous resignations and latterly the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Whatever your politics it seems that the new leader of the opposition has struck a cord with the public, people think he believes in what he’s saying and has a more honest approach. Authenticity is not something we would normally associate with politicians although for them it’s probably the holy grail. In business too we hear a lot about the need to be “Authentic” (dictionary definition “genuine, believable, credible and truthful”)

An Ipsos Mori Poll done at the end of September shows that Cameron is seen as more capable than Corbyn (62% agreeing vs 32%) but Corbyn scores higher than Cameron for being “more honest than most politicians” (54% agreeing vs 30%) Interestingly they score the same on “has got a lot of personality” (41% agreeing).   

A YouGov Poll comparing opinions on both leaders pre and post both party conferences shows that Corbyn’s overall rating as “doing well as the leader of the opposition” has slumped. On a more positive note, despite his conference speech receiving mixed reviews, the same number of respondents consider him to be a “Man of integrity” as did prior to the party conference.

Of course one person’s authentic can be another person’s fake and we all make our own judgements. Research carried out by Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy, explores how we make a first impression, we judge people on two traits, competence and warmth. Our judgement of someone’s competence is based on how capable they are, whilst we base our trust of someone according to their warmth, what we judge their intentions are towards us. We generally judge people as being high on one measure and lower on the other, rarely high on both. The result for politicians might be that they’re seen as highly competent yet untrustworthy or vice versa. Perhaps we could argue that in the case of Cameron vs Corbyn.

Interestingly context affects our judgement, if we meet someone in a work situation we may assign more weight to their competence whereas in a social situation we’re looking for how much warmth someone exhibits. In general, we make judgements on someone’s warmth much quicker than their competence, an inbuilt survival mechanism for judging if someone is friend or foe. If we judge someone as lacking warmth when we first meet them, it’s then very difficult to change that view. There are, of course, lots of non-verbal behaviours that can contribute to someone’s perceived competence or trustworthiness (warmth) which often we’re unaware that we’re giving away. In the case of politicians, we might feel that we don’t trust them but can’t put our finger on why we’ve made that judgement. 
There’s much written about why being authentic is important in business. Whether we’re meeting someone for the first time, trying to influence a colleague or client, even in a negotiation it’s a real advantage if we come across as authentic (people buy people after all). When we’re giving a presentation we often work hard on rehearsing, aiming to be polished and articulate, if we’re not careful, we can overcompensate, we lose our personality and we became flat and boring and over-rehearsed. In fact, being over-scripted can be perceived as lacking confidence in what we have to say (competence) and make us appear disingenuous and distant (lacking warmth).  

In our coaching and training we work with people to identify their natural style and help them to use that in a business context, there’s nothing worse than someone suppressing their personality, that’s when we lose authenticity. Once we have that working well, we help people to try new styles that they might use in different situations, to expand their presentation “toolkit”. We focus on identifying habits in both body language and voice and improving them as part of someone’s overall communication. Does this mean losing authenticity? No, we work with people to help them find the “best version of you”.