Authentic authenticity

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Milling around after a recent talk, I overheard someone declare, “Millennials are intolerant of inauthenticity.” I found myself needing a reminder of what “authentic” really meant, since the word veers toward overuse. In fact, I was imagining that this utterance, this idea, was itself inauthentic, i.e. not original. So, I actually searched on the phrase to see if the person was parroting something they’d read, probably from an analyst piece.

A quick search returned article after article about “Millennials and inauthenticity,” and their seemingly universal repelling of each other. But it can’t be just Millennials. Isn’t everyone at least skeptical, if not genuinely intolerant, of inauthentic people and interactions? Surely, in general, people don’t like engaging in fake discussions or derivative work. I started thinking about past business scenarios — long, pointless meetings, reports without substance, uninspired presentations — when what I was doing or how I was interacting with someone felt inauthentic, when we were playing roles but not really engaging in anything meaningful. These exchanges always made me feel that my work was cheap and disposable, something that people didn’t value and wasn’t worth doing.

It brought me to a memory of an exchange I had at my last company. I needed to check in with someone from another department (DevOps) on the status of AWS Marketplace deployment so we could gauge when to start directing traffic to it. My colleague spoke animatedly and articulately about the various issues involved, especially working with our certifying packager, and how that would affect the customer experience and our ability to support them. He shared detail after detail, a lot of which I didn’t really need. I could have cut the conversation short to save us both time (and no doubt I wanted to at the time) but his clear command of the issue and his enthusiastic delivery signaled to me his expertise and care... so I didn’t. I realize now — overenthusiastic or not — what I had witnessed was my colleague’s authentic self. Every engagement we have with another, even on the most pedantic topics, is an opportunity to observe or assert authenticity.

Now I challenge you to measure the authenticity of your own exchanges. It just might be the first step to deeper and more meaningful engagements in the workplace.