Authenticity in the workplace is crucial. Contrasting personalities, differing histories and diverse backgrounds are not only expected but encouraged. Hiding your true colors will only stop you, and your team, from thriving.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Social Issues revealed that professionals who try to conceal some of their core characteristics, such as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or having a history of poverty or illness, end up hurting their careers.
The research found that hiding who you are in the workplace not only diminishes your sense of belonging but also lowers your self-esteem, job satisfaction and commitment at work.
Heather Monahan, founder of career mentoring group #BossinHeels and author of Confidence Creator (Boss in Heels, 2018), stressed the importance of authenticity in the business world. She provided six ways to achieve it.
1. Be the best you.
Everyone has their own unique qualities and characteristics – why disguise yours to fit in? Even in the workplace, you should embrace your differences as your superpowers. No one has walked a day in your shoes, so no one can bring what you do to the table.
"Being your most authentic self is how you will really advance in life," said Monahan. "So often I have seen people trying to act the way their boss does or presenting themselves in a manner that they think others want to imagine they are actually like. By being your authentic self instead of a copy of someone else, you begin to shine and own what unique strengths and qualities you possess inside."
2. Take baby steps.
You won't achieve confidence overnight, and no one expects you to. For some, it takes years just to realize who they are and who they want to be.
But when you're ready to accept your differences rather than conceal them out of fear, you should take conscious steps in the right direction. Monahan noted that gaining confidence requires a series of deliberate actions, such as speaking up and putting yourself first.
"If you have not been your authentic self in the office, challenging yourself to take small steps daily is the easiest solution," she said.
For example, she added, you can dedicate one day to not making self-deprecating jokes, and the next day to sharing a success story with someone.
"There are small things that you can do every day that will build your confidence over time and allow you to feel your best in your own skin," Monahan said.
3. Choose to be confident.
Confidence is, in fact, a choice. No matter how much you might look down on yourself or how insecure you might feel in certain situations, you can create or restore your confidence with continuous effort.
"When someone is struggling with their confidence and lacking self-esteem, they may find it difficult to speak up for themselves," Monahan said. "When an individual would rather please others than themselves, they are actively chipping away at their confidence, which is a dangerous spot to be in."
Lacking confidence will only dim your light, preventing you from showing what only you have to offer. If you don't believe in you, no one will. Choose to be confident, even when it feels impossible.
4. Be willing to be rejected.
If you fear rejection and are hiding behind a mask as a protective mechanism, you have to be willing to take it off occasionally. This willingness to be vulnerable with others (within reason) will take some courage at first, but you may find that your co-workers relate to you and accept you.
5. Don't be like everyone else.
It's common for some to feel like they have to pretend to be different because of the company culture or because of their colleagues. You may feel pressured to attend after-work events that you don't enjoy or participate in activities that aren't central to the job. If you are effective at your job, that counts for a lot. And if you need a valid excuse to opt out of after-work events, sign up for an evening class at a college or trade school. You'll have a convenient reason as to why you can't be there for work-related events, and you might be able to transfer the skills learned from these courses to your job.
6. Learn from your mistakes.
No one is perfect, and given the chance, everyone has done things that they would take back. Rather than dwell on your mistake, analyze the situation. Take a good look at the things leading up to the event and consider what could have been done differently that would have led to a better outcome.
You can't change the past, but trial and error are excellent guides. You can take steps to avoid repeating the same error in the future. Be willing to learn from your mistakes, and be open to accepting changes.