Have you ever blown it in a job interview or sales meeting, but you couldn’t really say why? It’s helpful to keep in mind that in the first moments of meeting you, people already begin making judgments about whether a partnership seems viable, whether a candidate is the right fit, or whether they want to buy a product or subscribe to a service.
Think back to that meeting that suddenly unraveled. Did you really do anything in particular to make your audience judge you so harshly?
Sometimes that hazy sense of why things didn’t go well boils down to authenticity. And in this sense, professional encounters are not that different from personal ones. People have a sense for when there’s something misaligned about another person, even if they can’t explains precisely what that is.
So when you appear authentic and in alignment with both who you are and what you’re presenting, you have a powerful and positive presence. When you feel shaky about yourself, you broadcast physical discomfort. The fact that you are stammering, looking worried or fidgeting with your hands conveys a stronger message than your actual words.
Your words say “hire me,” but your body language says “don’t trust me.”
Beneath the Surface
Being well dressed and neatly groomed gives a helpful first impression, but it doesn’t take long for most people look beyond that. Within seconds of a personal encounter, we start assessing, interpreting and judging based on all kinds of cues — the least of which are spoken to us or communicated in dress. Someone may look polished, but their words and their demeanor need to be a match. Red flags go up when people seem uneasy in their own skin.
Even an unseasoned professional can sense when someone is trying to show up as something they are not. They pick up on this when a speaker tries to only say the “right” things as opposed to what’s true – in other words, when we just recite what we think the interviewer or client wants to hear. The harder we try to impress, the less impressive we seem.
The Naked Ape
When conversations disintegrate, there’s something happening beneath the surface in regions that have been part of our mammal biology for millions of years. The qualities that once enhanced our survival now work to sabotage us. One needs to not only recognize these mechanisms, but also know how to shut them down when they mean the difference between success and failure.
For example, when an interviewee goes in for the big meeting, they can feel nervous and threatened about not getting the job. This triggers a response that ones very survival is in jeopardy. Long ago, such a reaction had a vital biological function — namely, to shut down other sectors of the brain to focus only on tasks essential to keeping us alive. Walking into an interview, you may start thinking, “What if I’m turned down for this job? What will my partner say when I share the news? What if we lose our home?”
Once the pesky reptilian brain has taken control you focus on consequences rather than the present experience. You obsess on a future desired outcome and neglect your presence in the here and now with these interviewers. Your fears of rejection triggers a fight-or-flight response making you less intelligent, more emotional and more reactive.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
When we’re in a calm state, we’re more connected to the frontal lobe – a more evolved and creative center of the brain. This allows you to have an enjoyable conversation where one person becomes curious about the other and is interested in the potential relationship.
To avoid getting sucked into the realm of the paleomammalian brain, practice staying focused, balanced and logical in the midst of stress. Pause and take a deep breath. Connect back to your body to diffuse the fearful thoughts clouding your head.
You may be asked questions designed to gauge your skills, fit with the culture and abilities — but essentially interviewers are looking for a sense of who you are. Are you creative and articulate enough, and could you handle stressful situations if hired? Or will you loose your cool?
Ok, Who Am I?
If you can genuinely be yourself and have a positive interview, other challenges to authenticity may emerge during your time at a company. Workers often think they need to show up as a different version of themselves when they start working in the morning. This can lead to deep confusion and dissatisfaction within ourselves, and make our jobs feel like a prison.
Fear can lead people to create a gulf between their professional and personal lives. Often we feel that if we “merely” our everyday selves, we will be rejected or fail professionally. But simply conforming to another party’s expectation is a recipe for unhappiness and unfulfilled potential.
Being authentic can take courage, but it will help build trust with managers and colleagues, as well as avoid alienating now contacts and clients who don’t yet know you. So relax and let go of fear. Whether you’re trying to land that dream job or develop long-term relationships with colleagues and customers, feeling at ease in your own skin in what matters most. And it matters most to others as well, since this gives them the assurance that you are who you say you are.