By Maram Behairy

It may sound like a strange question. What do I mean “allow” others to be authentic? Isn’t it each person’s individual responsibility to be authentic or not? Yes and No.

Yes, each of us has a choice to speak our truth and be honest with the people in our lives about what we really think, feel, and want.

And No, it is not only an individual responsibility to cultivate authenticity in a relationship, family, or organization. We can make it easy for people to be authentic with us or we can make it varying degrees of difficult. This post is all about how to make it easy for others to be authentic with you.

It’s a pretty simple concept. If every time someone expresses themselves openly to you, how do you respond? Your responses send a message to the people in your life, teaching them the level of authenticity that is acceptable and safe.

Most people test the waters for what is an acceptable and safe level of authenticity. For some relationships, it may be reasonable that we do not share everything. For example, in a work setting, it may not be appropriate to share personal and emotional matters. However, if colleagues do not feel safe expressing their ideas in front of you, this is problematic. Do you allow your colleagues or employees to tell you what they really think?

In healthy personal relationships, it is appropriate to share thoughts, feelings, and wants. Does your spouse feel safe to share his or her dreams? feelings? ideas?

There are 3 ways we prevent authentic expression in others.

  1. We ignore. If your spouse asks for something and you do not even acknowledge the request, this is ignoring. If your loved one shares his or her feelings and you do not respond or you change the subject, this is ignoring. If your colleague provides feedback and you do not respond or incorporate it, this is ignoring. Ignoring sends the message that you do not care to know what another person is expressing. It sends the message that you do not find their thoughts, feelings, or wants important. Worse, it may send the message that you do not find them important.
  2. We belittle. If your spouse expresses that you hurt her feelings with a comment and you laugh at her, this is belittling. Maybe you don’t laugh, but you comment that this is silly or not a big deal. If your colleague shares an idea and you make fun of it or point out their inexperience, this is belittling. Belittling another person’s expression makes it unsafe for authenticity.
  3. We attack. If your spouse tells you his dreams of a different career and you get mad, maybe yell because he is not following the agreed upon script, this is attacking. If your wife shares her difficulties in motherhood and you tell her she is being ungrateful, this is attacking. If an employee shares reservations about a project and you point out their previous failures, this is attacking. Attacking others when they are sharing their thoughts, feelings, and wants will scare them from sharing with you in the future.

To cultivate authenticity in your relationships, you may find the following tips helpful.

  1. Pay attention. Notice if your spouse, friend, or colleague is sharing.
  2. Think about what is being shared. Consider an idea. Try to feel the emotion. And remember the wants being expressed.
  3. It doesn’t always have to be with words. Maybe a hug is needed. Maybe a smile and kind eyes. Maybe the response is that you will think about it and respond later (and you actually do). What’s important is that your response is on topic, respectful, and kind.

We all appreciate authentic people. We appreciate when we do not have to guess what another person is thinking or feeling. We appreciate the simplicity and clarity of authentic relationships. Yet, if you find yourself surrounded by inauthentic people, maybe it’s time to consider if you cultivate authentic expression in others. Do you allow others to be authentic with you?

About the Author:

Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation

‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’ 

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Maram Behairy
Author: Maram Behairy