Who are you and why you matter (from a team perspective)

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on”.  (Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations)

We spend a lot of time at work and that’s a lot of time to pretend being someone we are not. I was once advised by a colleague whose opinion I valued that I needed to change, and then spent about five years trying to follow that advice by being someone I’m not. This experience taught me that self-improvement is not about changing but about being your best self, knowing that it is okay to communicate individuality while recognising areas of potential growth.

Cultural value on self-expression has a lot to do with where you live and New Zealanders are more fortunate than others.  Evert van de Vliet argues that in countries where climate and living conditions are generally are very harsh and where the focus is on survival, self-expression is tolerated less. In New Zealand and other countries where the living is easier, tolerance and focus on self-expression is much stronger (Climate, Affluence and Culture, 2008).

Self-expression at work is part of this but a study by Deloittes in the USA has found that most people conceal aspects of their personalities when they arrive at work. Other research shows that while the practice of leaving aspects of ourselves at the workplace door is common, it is also unhealthy, potentially leading to a decrease in immune function, not to mention the impact on emotional well-being.

So self-expression at work is not just good for the individual, it’s good for the workplace too. Being a whole person at work means we feel comfortable talking about our passions and interests, we are given the scope to demonstrate our individual talents and strengths regardless of our role, and we are able to reflect who we are outside work – the people we are within our own families and communities.  This feeling of permission leads to healthier and happier teams.

While no one wants to be thought of as a fake, it can sometimes be dangerous to be too authentic. But this only becomes a problem when the filters are off. Over-sharing and poor emotional management, for example, can create difficulties for teams and are more likely to be career limiting than career enhancing. Our authentic self at work should be the best version of our authentic self and this can be achieved through self-awareness and mindfulness. If we know we can be impatient then we should pay attention to practicing patience. This isn’t being inauthentic; it is being kind and your best self is kind, right?

Here are some ways to practice being both mindful and authentic:

  • Be genuinely interested in your colleagues and what they do both at work and outside work. This doesn’t mean you have to be best mates, but being attentive and concerned brings positive social interaction to the team, connects people, and encourages empathy.
  • Keep doing enjoyable things outside work to keep you fresh and interesting, and most importantly, to relieve stress. This is especially important if your personality type tends towards stress-cadetship.
  • Observe yourself as an impartial spectator. Are you being the best you can be in any given situation? The golden rule applies here – if you like to be treated with kindness and respect then treat others with kindness and respect.

I know from personal experience just how much effort can be wasted when we feel obliged to change our personalities to suit our workplace. This can be avoided when we are confident we are expressing our individuality appropriately, and when we work for organisations that value diversity and encourage staff to be their best selves.

What are your thoughts about being empowered to express your individuality in your workplace?  Share with other readers in the comments below.

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