Before the age of five or six, most children are fairly spontaneous with their emotions. Raised in a stable environment, they share feelings somewhat freely, especially with one another and sometimes even with their parents and their parents’ friends. Think of the main comedic thrust of the old cartoon character Dennis the Menace, who would repeat what he heard his parents say about their guests after the guests’ arrival, to the embarrassment of all. When this same feature of brash openness is seen in adults, we call it immaturity or naïveté. If they do it in public with extreme elegance and deftness, we call them comedians, sharing what we all know to be true but dare no say in public. Dissembling (concealing feelings or intentions) is not learned until a few years later.

So being our authentic self in the workplace involves having gone through the school of hard knocks in terms of making the mistakes of emotional miscommunication until we get it right. Having learned to dissemble our emotions, that is, to hide what we think is unacceptable, untoward, or even dangerous to our career tracks, we’re now exploring a reversal of that process to share more openly to reveal our authentic self.

It’s like so many other things – we must learn something well before we learn to do what we don’t usually do.

If we’re going to share how we really feel about taboo topics in front of a captive audience, we must learn the art of comedy – how to be to the point, to dramatically effective, and to share those things that others tend to sweep under the rug – without offending too much. How much we offend depends on the brand of humor.

Being your real self at work doesn’t mean letting it all hang out. On the contrary, it means having the emotional awareness to identify your ongoing feelings and the mindfulness to be sensitive as to how others may react to your sharing. What that does is enable you to share your feelings with integrity. You share your real self after due consideration of what your true self consists of in some particular situation. And you do so mindful of the consequences of your sharing. It’s the integrity that keeps you honest about the process.

To learn more, read the revised and updated Relationship Economics paperback edition with 40 percent new content, including an all-new chapter 10 on social media and business relationships (Wiley, Feb. 2011).

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