My newest book, Better Conversations, is being released today, so I am posting a short excerpt from the new book. You can see the link for the trailer for the book here

During one of my presentations on Better Conversations, a bright, young English teacher asked me a great question. “I think it’s really important to be authentic,” he said. “If I start to really listen to my friends, ask better questions, try to find common ground as you suggest, won’t I be written me off as a fake? I worry that trying to learn and do all these ideas might make me inauthentic.”

My quick response was that authenticity and good communication are not mutually exclusive terms, and that authenticity should never be an excuse for poor communication. However, I wanted to come up with a better answer. That night I looked up “authentic” in the Oxford English Dictionary and found that, according to the OED, “authentic” refers to something that is “real, actual, genuine; original, first-hand; really proceeding from its stated source.” In this sense, an authentic Picasso is a painting that was unquestionably painted by the master himself. An authentic person, then, would be someone who lives in a way that is completely consistent with who they are.

I tried to expand and deepen my understanding of the term authentic by revisiting my university philosophy classes and by going to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I was reminded that our modern understanding of authenticity is shaped in large measure by what existentialist philosophers have written. Kierkegaard, for example, whose definition of authenticity was informed by his faith in God, described authentic people as those who find faith and then live with integrity in ways that are consistent with their faith (see Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, 1964).

Nietzsche, in contrast, whose definition of authenticity was grounded in his atheism, described authentic people as those who live lives that are not shaped by conventional norms and morality, but who live according to their own principles (see Beyond Good and Evil,1966). In both of these definitions, authentic people are seen as those who know what they believe and who act consistently with those beliefs. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states, “To say that something is authentic is to say that it is what it professes to be.”

Authenticity then involves two parts: (a) who we say we are and (b) what we do. Authenticity is definitely not just mindlessly reacting in whatever way feels good in the moment. To be an authentic communicator we have to know what we believe and then we have to act in a way that is consistent with those beliefs. The journey toward having better conversations, therefore, is actually a journey toward authenticity. Both beliefs and actions (which I am referring to as habits) matter.