Phil Hartman was one of my favorite comedians, actors, and SNL players.
Over the course of his career, he started playing a lot of characters with radio announcer voices, like Troy McClure on The Simpsons.
On a Mother’s Day episode of SNL, Phil asked his mom something like, “Mom, I was wondering, what does my voice really sound like? I forgot.”
When Mara, my daughter, was much younger, she made an astute observation. “Dad, why is your laugh different with people you don’t know as well?” That’s when I realized I forced or exaggerated laughter during small talk conversations.
Authenticity is important.
It matters when building relationships. It’s not enough to know others; we have to be known as well. But being totally unfiltered is dangerous, and no one really wants all the stuff that’s going on in our heads. However, leaders can sometimes spend a lot of mental energy being someone others need, and over time, can start to hide being their “leader persona” so much they become somewhat unknowable.
I was talking with some friends recently about a colleague we admired but felt like we didn’t know. “It’s like he’s become a character he’s playing, and I don’t really know him even though I talk to him all the time.” We also talked about our concern for him; he seemed to not completely enjoy what he was doing anymore.
Shortly after that conversation, one of us found this article, and shared it.
I’m glad that happened – Mr. Herrara and Mr. Grant really hit the nail on the head.
When we play a role, it’s not just authenticity we lose. We also lose vulnerability, which is more damaging. We need to be vulnerable to build trust and stay mentally healthy.
But it’s not that simple.
When you read the article, you’ll find this: Being totally authentic can have two major repercussions with people you don’t know well.
First, it can cause you to seem incompetent and insecure. Second, it can make you seem self-centered by revealing too much. Knowing your audience is important, right? And that’s where we get into trouble. We enable the filters for the first impressions, but then we leave them up too long and for too many people.
“Authenticity without empathy is selfish,” the author notes. We have to be true to our values, and it’s best if one of those values is caring about others.