My kid just started middle school. On their first day, they arrived with a backpack…
A few weeks ago, we dove into the difference between authenticity and professionalism at work. That post is here. Today we are going to go into how to create more authentic workspaces by embracing situational propriety while respecting our core values.
Why does this matter for communication? Because not only is the voice is a tattle-tale, your body is its accomplice. If what you seek is to speak with clarity and authority, the authenticity issue will not go away.
Professionalism or Situational Propriety
Professionalism is determined by how well we conform to a norm. The baseline for this keeps professional life in a box that is mostly white, mostly male, and mostly impersonal. We already know this isn’t working. People in the workplace are not mostly white or mostly male and humanity cannot be impersonal. And so, we burden HR departments, where they exist at all, with the task of policing the overflow.
The better path is to train for situational propriety. To establish how we can communicate with each other about ourselves and the work we do. The “big” issues can often be easier to control. For example, one might establish that it is inappropriate in a workplace to discuss or allude to matters of sexual intimacy, even in jest. The application of that one concept might solve many issues. This isn’t the same as non-fraternization rules. It just says that this is a delicate area that should be navigated outside the workplace and involve the full, enthusiastic consent of equals. It also doesn’t mean that couples who work together should act like strangers, just that sexual intimacy goes somewhere else.
Harder to deal with are off-hand comments that come from a place of internalized racism or misogyny. Situational propriety still applies but the person making the comments may be unaware of where they are stepping. For these situations, one must create an environment where they can be addressed and corrections given with respect for the humanity of all parties. Think of it as calling people in rather than calling them out. Importantly, it is the responsibility of those who administer a workplace to hold this space. Do not force people to engage in the emotional labor of educating someone who has expressed bias or been hostile. There is a great article about this here and another here which is geared towards education but is of benefit to workplaces.
But what about Authenticity?
Authencity is living your life within your core values and expressing yourself from that place. There is a difference between core values and your learned beliefs. Also, living from your values doesn’t mean you get to superimpose them upon others. It means that you live from those core values no matter what you are discussing or with whom. It also means staying open so that you have true interactions with the authentic in others.
Creating a workplace that holds all of these things is what puts human connection back in your organization. It means accepting that we will get it wrong sometimes because we are in uncharted waters. And, it means preparing for those missteps with compassion and an open mind. I do get it, holding on to professionalism is easier but it isn’t real.
Remember the Body
As you navigate creating a functional human system (rather than maintaining a dysfunctional one), you may encounter many doubts about the lay of the land. Just remember that your body is keeping score. How open is it? Where is your tension? Are you breathing? How engaged are you?
Be kind with yourself as you figure this all out. Professionalism encourages us to subdue ourselves, authenticity at work will feel weird but is totally worth it.
Gina Razón is the Founder and CEO at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service verbal communication studio in Boston’s Back Bay. She has over 18 years of experience as a teacher of voice and speech, is a communication and change facilitator, and a voraciously curious voice user. Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker. For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit www.growvoice.com.