As a teenager, I had a surprising fascination with the art of communication. At 14 years old, I was already reading books about body language, the hand shake, and active listening. I was especially interested in how meaning varies across cultures. The same gesture or mannerism that would be considered good behaviour in one culture may signify something rude or obnoxious in another. What a big, big world.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that my own body language, handshake, gestures, mannerisms, and listening skills have varied depending on what I was personally going through. I no longer believe that I can follow a formula in a book because you can’t fake any of this… people can always tell. This is why you might meet someone who is sharp and has perfect body language, yet your gut tells you not to trust them. Even if their intentions are good, the forced behaviour comes across as orchestrated and fake.
Instead, there has to be a balance between understanding how behaviours are perceived by a dominant culture, and adapting them in such a way that reflects your inner self authentically. This makes all the difference between “hey, you’re super easy to talk to!” and “hmmm… she’s nice but, I don’t know, there’s something not quite right about her…”
Understand the rulebook of the culture you are currently experiencing, but also be yourself.
For me, this sometimes means that, in a situation that demands my self-assertion, I may choose to be quiet and observe instead. It means that, while protocol may be to send an email, I may walk over to someone’s desk. Perhaps a difficult person is setting obstacles in my path; I may choose to put up a fight, but I may also choose to be exceptionally kind.
Generally, being authentic towards myself has always worked in my favour, because people trust me when I trust myself. The moment one falls out of line with his own values, morals, ideologies, and feelings, even those who are on the same side will feel betrayed.
Have you ever heard it said: “She says it like it is, so you can trust that a compliment from her is true” Or… “He said I did a great job! But, wait, he says that to everyone. So… did I really do a good job?”
Nobody trusts a leader (or a peer, or spouse, or friend) who is not authentic…. even if they are nice.
Communication is a two-way street with many guiding stones. The stones are made up of moral reasonings, cultural expectations, social and religious values. What we tend to forget is that there is something else on the path: human beings with vastly diverse histories, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and values. What is meaningful to you may not apply at all to someone else, but it is what makes you authentic and so it must be nurtured. We have to keep this in mind when we communicate with one another.
It’s unnatural to act like empty vessels that follow a step-by-step book of rules designed to “win them over!” and “assert yourself!” and “show your strength!” and “encourage trust!”
You will achieve all of these things not only by understanding the rules, but also by maintaining your authenticity. Be yourself.
And remember… we design our own luck!