What are the five pillars of authentic conversation?

Tim Baker


written on September 13, 2017

Attitude and behaviour overwhelmingly inform how we converse. Each of the below pillars is an extension of these two important components.

It’s important to understand what is meant by the term “”authenticity”, particularly when it comes to conversation. A definition I like was provided by the human resources manager of Hampshire County Council: “Authenticity is the new emotional intelligence”.

In terms of organisational authenticity, an apt description would be, “when organisations walk their talk, it is revealed moment by moment, through the experiences provided to stakeholders—employees, customers, vendors, suppliers, and other key business partners.”

The importance of attitude

Authenticity has a lot to do with the outlook of the participants in the conversation. How prepared are they to be authentic and open in each conversation? Are they in the right frame of mind to say what needs to be said and show one another respect?

People’s thinking shapes their ability to be authentic. A conversationalist’s attitude hinges on countless factors, including the circumstances leading up to the conversation. Attitude is the starting point. It governs behaviour and defines the actions that make up the second part of authentic interaction.

Certain actions or inactions will amplify or lessen authenticity. The five pillars of authentic conversation are a combination of attitude and behavior and are the foundations for authentic conversations.

While each pillar isn’t necessarily a conversation on its own, the process of dialogue between two people in the workplace needs to address these five pillars for authentic interaction to take place.

Let’s look at the framework.  

Some of these pillars, for a variety of reasons, are easier than others. People’s personalities and the history and chemistry between people are factors that impact on the degree of difficulty. The quality of the working relationship, nonetheless, is improved when all five pillars are evident in the dialogue. The reverse is true too: the quality of the working relationship will undoubtedly deteriorate if these attributes are not addressed.

There is no specific order ascribed to the pillars below. Like a row of pillars holding up a roof, they all have a role to play:

  • Establish a trusting relationship
  • Agree on expectations
  • Show genuine appreciation
  • Challenge unhelpful behaviour
  • Build for the future

1. Establish a trusting relationship

Trust and authenticity are related and authentic communicating builds trust. We humans are good at sensing authenticity and inauthenticity. An authentic attitude and approach means contributing openly and trustingly. A lack of trust, on the other hand, leads to superficiality. The interaction is guarded, shallow, and is missing genuineness and openness. Having trust is critically important for any leader to function properly.

2. Agree on expectations

Agreeing on expectations sounds like a simple premise, doesn’t it? But it’s not. To do this, a leader should answer five questions in the affirmative. They are:

  1. Do I know what I expect of others working in my area of responsibility?
  2. Have I communicated my standards clearly?
  3. Do others understand and accept my expectations?
  4. Have I gained the commitment of others to consistently meet those standards?
  5. Have I provided the right supportive environment for others to meet these expectations?

In my next article, I will review the three other pillars of the authentic conversations framework. These include: Show genuine appreciation; Challenge unhelpful behaviour; and Build for the future.

Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author.

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