Authentic Presence: Exploring Our Range, Part 1 of 3

This post was written by Hannah Morris, Facilitator and Coach at The Latimer Group.

Imagine yourself speaking with your closest colleague in an impromptu conversation where you’ve just dropped in to say “hi”. Now imagine yourself speaking with the Executive Leadership Team of your organization as you deliver a presentation about an important issue your department has been facing. Would you sound and look the same in these two instances?

We would argue that you wouldn’t, and you probably shouldn’t. But we would also argue that those two versions of yourself are connected and should feel consonant.

That is because we all have range. Within our presence – the way we show up and present ourselves – we all have many different ways to express ourselves and we are constantly adapting these, mostly unconsciously, to our environment, audience, and situation. This adaptation makes us more successful in our interactions and contributions and, even though it involves conscious choices based on external factors, it can be done authentically.

Authenticity is key to building trust. It is how we express who we are, and it is an alignment between how we feel and what we show. But when we talk about authenticity, we need to remember that we all have more than one single defining style. Authenticity itself is both multidimensional (having different aspects or forms), and dynamic (changing constantly over time).

So, what does your range look and sound like?

To figure that out, let’s first explore how these elements play out in the choices we make:

How we appear

When we are surrounded by people with whom we are familiar, we “let our guard down”, relax, and are less conscious of our posture and movement. We might not sit or stand up as straight. But if a new person enters that space – a person on whom we want to make an impression or to whom we want to show extra respect or deference – we come to attention, we may elongate our spine and hold our heads higher.

With our attire, we make different choices for different occasions and even have terms like “business formal” and “smart casual” to help us select appropriately. Many organizations provide dress codes to ensure their employees meet the appearance expectations for their roles, while others rely on simple statements, such as “Dress appropriately.”

How we speak

Yes, yup, yeah, uh-huh, sure, definitely, certainly, mm-hm, yes sir/ma’am. There are many ways to respond affirmatively in the English language. Which one we choose depends partially on our background – cultural and geographical – but also on what level of formality we decide is most appropriate for a situation, based on the audience and topic, or the question or request we are responding to.

Even within a single word, there are different levels of attention we can all apply to its articulation. How many of the ‘b’s in the word “probably” do we pronounce: probably? prob-ly? prolly? Again, this can be regional, but each region has its own examples of these variations.

How we interact

Consider emotions, opinions, humor, and stories; what we will and won’t share in a conversation depends on how comfortable we are with an audience and our “sense of the room”. How we react to other people’s jokes – with a polite smile and chuckle or a loud guffaw – will also depend on how guarded we do or don’t feel and what type of impression we are looking to make.

To better understand these choices we are making and become more intentional in how we “show up”, we can consider our range as a series of bands that make up our authentic presence. We will define and explore those bands in our next post, and in our final post in this three-part series, we will tackle an important question: “What, then, is inauthentic presence?”

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Hannah Morris

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.