It takes courage to be yourself. But if we try and embrace what makes us unique at work – everybody wins, says Katinka Magnussen
“Just be yourself,” is the advice we often hear from family and friends when we’re facing a challenge, like a job interview or an important presentation. But it’s not always easy to really be yourself. Especially your whole self.
We all have different roles that we fulfil depending the environment we’re in and the people we interact with. Whether it’s a family dinner, a meeting with our colleagues or negotiations with a client – we’ll behave differently in each situation. And in turn, the people we’re with will assign a certain role to us.
We all have different facets that are more or less prominent in the company of others or on social media. After all, we want to show our best side and hide those little insecurities and shortcomings – particularly in a professional context.
But I’m often surprised how seriously people take interactions on social media and how much people’s image of others is shaped by what they share online. Let’s take the example of Instagram. I use this quite frequently and many people assume that what I share is my ‘real life’ – but in reality, my feed shows just one of the many roles that I am playing. This doesn’t mean that I’m not myself in that particular moment.
In a recent study by Nespresso Professional, 40% of the respondents said that they present a different persona at work than they do at home – describing a feeling of ‘split personality’. Research suggests that adapting your behaviour due to external pressure may lead to health issues and psychological conflict. In my view, it also takes a lot of energy to hide parts of yourself in order to conform.
This phenomenon stands in contrast to the concept of self-expression, which describes a fundamental part of the evolving workplace culture: To be able to bring our entire self to work and not leave behind a part of us at the office door.
Read more: Make Change: Learning and leading together
Experts recognise that employers who succeed in creating a working environment that makes people feel safe to be their authentic selves benefit in many ways – including through greater retention, engagement and passion. Furthermore, research on self-expression suggests that there might be much more to the simple idea of being yourself, incuding it playing a role in persuasion and influence.
Every one of us has a passion, goals and a purpose that drives us. By being authentic in the workplace and sharing our honest views, experiences, successes and failures with the people around us, we can create meaningful relationships at work. Such relationships are incredibly powerful, as community builder Fabian Pfortmüller describes very eloquently in this video.
A culture of authenticity enables us to profit from the diverse experiences, backgrounds and interests of our teams and create ideas and solutions that go beyond our personal abilities. Organisational anthropologist Judith E. Glaser put it like this: “Achieving greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations.”
Interacting with others gives us the opportunity to shape and grow our relationships. However, being honest with each other can also make us feel vulnerable. And yes, it might feel odd at first to open up to our colleagues in the same way that we do in the presence of close friends or family.
But wouldn’t it be great if the place where we spend so much time, and the people that surround us most of the day, felt more like home? In a world where the boundary between our work and personal lives is blurring due to new technology, flexible working and design trends, feeling as comfortable at work doesn’t just need to be about sofas in the office.
It takes courage to be yourself. But if we try and embrace what makes us unique – everybody wins.
Katinka Magnussen is workplace advisor at digital work specialist Blackboat. See more of the company’s workplace content on YouTube