I was interested to take up this invitation of the good coach and have a go at this personal - blog type short piece that was meaningful for me, as well as being of practical value for others interested in this thing about helping people.
I see ‘authenticity’ as a really important aspect to my Practice.
One very important lens I use to understand, and practice, is through the idea of ‘Authenticity’.
Part of my trade in presenting the subject of psychology to people has to begin with some - authentic - use of definition. So building on some really useful work from others, in a similar vein – when they were searching for their ‘authenticity’, I start with Kierkegaard (1846) who describes it as a ‘way of being’.
The flip side of this, of course, is being inauthentic. Heidegger (1927) believed/said that in reality we live in constant tension between being authentic and inauthentic. Seeing it as a continuum thus shapes my thinking on this and my introspection of my ‘self’ and where I am at one at any given time with any given ‘hat’ on.
Authenticity starts with me, then!
So this is about me and my take on authenticity of me, and relating to others in order to help others – this is my personal sharing that I hope will contribute towards, and especially to help us all share, what we understand about what each one of does that works.
So what does authenticity mean for me and my self in relation to the world around me? I guess my thoughts are towards a somewhat existential perspective living according to my values and leading what I define as a purposeful life.
Immediately thinking of Cooley´s (1902) concept of the ‘looking glass self’ which states that a person’s self grows out of their social interactions with others [reference]. That view of ourselves comes from the contemplation of personal qualities and impressions of how others perceive us.
My perception of myself then leads on to how I believe I have values relating to concern for others, including also a sense of ethics, and integrity. All very laudable I hear you say but how does that translate?
A summary of how my journey has worked for me
I left school at 18 and only knew that I wanted to work in education, with people, in psychology with some element of research.
This led me to a few years in a library which I thoroughly enjoyed. To quote a colleague ‘people are my kind of library.’
I then embarked on a part time Psychology degree with the Open University. Here I really started to find my authentic self, intellectually and personally, with many questions being answered for me.
I went into teaching after some further academic study ( about education ) where I found out lots more about myself as I lived on campus for the year and so was a ‘proper’ student. I also learnt that as a teacher (professional identity/’hat’) it is important to be yourself in the classroom and not adopt a false ‘teacher’ persona, and worked on this from day one.
I then ventured into a study programme / MSc in Organisational Psychology, thinking of expanding my Further Education job and my Psychology offering. As I saw it then, it did not suit me and following this experience, I went to work with more direct contact with people and more overt learning. Hence, I worked with my alma mater the Open University in a variety of roles including a project working with young people in Widening Participation running events looking at identity -‘who am I’ – loosely exploring one’s authentic self.
So here, I found myself drawn towards bridging the generation gap and knowing where these students with an average age of 17 were coming from and feeling a meeting as equals.
This has become a major area of my continued practice now. The question was how?
That word ‘career!'
To be authentic I need to do things that are meaningful and resonate with other people and find a key to their door to look at what skills and interests they can use above all in a practical way. This is still very widely addressed through the door of the term ‘Career’.
This means finding a common language with them whoever they may be. I have always had an affinity (I think!) with young people within my career in teaching and lecturing and for 10 years I have been using a career assessment tool with clients of all age ranges but mostly young people in career coaching working a lot in schools. I am very used to unpacking psych’ speak!
I have also been told I am somewhat ageless!
For example, I had a conversation with a client only yesterday who was ‘half my age’ and had been in teaching for a year. They were looking to ‘get out’ but they were concerned they might be ‘too old’ for a new career. Taking time to look at ones inner strengths, skills and ability as well as most importantly personality (which may often be side lined in careers discussions) is imperative and on reflection is what I did.
Key elements of authenticity - Overt/Covert disclosure? Is there a hidden agenda?
I would like to take this chance to go on further to explore what really makes a difference as to how to get authenticity to really work. For me, anyway!
The issue of how much one should disclose with a client is very important. I will really only disclose anything if I feel it will help move the client on. So, for example, with a recent client I shared that I also worked in teaching as I could then show I had other ‘on the ground’ knowledge of their situation and resonate with their experience to a point.
I try to present my ‘true self’ to create relationships based on trust. This encourages the client to do the same. By sharing information, where appropriate, I can demonstrate that I trust my client and there is an implicit (as well as explicit) psychological safety. I try to help the client to unpack themselves and their wants and needs in terms of the workplace and how they fit within it.
I always try to put them at their ease and find out about them as people (without being intrusive) before we go through the results of their profiling diagnostics. I have clear goals to where I want them to get to. My service is giving them what they want and contracting with boundaries.
Importantly, I want to share my affinity with others and again it has been reflected that I have an almost ‘throw away’ style of ‘how are you doing?’ when I first meet clients.
Self regulation is an integral element to my practice, and this area has always fascinated me in both a physical and psychological way.
A simple model is always to start with ‘physical self-regulation’. I have remained about the same size and shape all of my adult life and am no paragon of virtue when it comes to eating, drinking and exercising. I have a genetic make-up that helps; but really do everything in moderation generally and seem to have a body that knows when it has had enough.
Extending this into my practice, I help others to see how they can help to regulate themselves and how they can make choices about their behaviours and choose the goals that work for them in order to be authentic with themselves.
This is important as Harter (2002) argues that people who report being true to themselves (i.e. regulate themselves) usually experience higher self- esteem, more positive affect and more hope for the future. This suggests more resilience through bad times and better psychological well-being; and higher self-esteem and life satisfaction (Kernis and Goodman 2005.) Self efficacy is also really important making people feel as good as they can be realistically.
Challenges and congruence
The biggest challenge I face is when I do not feel congruent with a piece of work that I am asked to do.
I was recently asked to work in an educational environment with which I did not feel socially comfortable. There was incongruence between my values and that of the establishment, and some long running beliefs underlying this (yes I will own it!) prejudice. The work around is that I try it once and see if it does feel as incongruent as I currently perceive it to be, and then if not, I don’t do it again. It will be an experience like as I say to my clients when they are thinking about work experience, “all experience is good experience even if it turns out to be bad experience!”
How does this work in the real world? A few tips
I’ve shared my approach, let me translate how I make it work:
- I always arrive in an open way either face to face or via Skype asking people about themselves in a non-intrusive way and seeking background information even in ‘tells’ which might help me. Often it’s what they don’t say as much as what they do!
- I try to raise the energy level to raise the client’s awareness of themselves by smiling a lot and creating the environment where they feel I have a genuine interest in them as people overall.
- I sometimes communicate vulnerability (where appropriate) overtly or covertly sharing an experience or just saying ‘sometimes I feel like that too.’
- I try to imagine where they are what their surroundings might be – the physical situation.
- I keep focussed on the structure so we don’t just have a very congruent chat but a grounded discussion on the facts of the report.
- Always establish a common language and frame of reference with the client from the start and ensure that I am being as in their ‘world’ as possible.
Of course, I notice I haven’t used the term coaching throughout this short piece.
A lot of my work relies on the perceived ‘efficacy’ of Psychology, and its research background, which provides useful tools that enable people to make sense of their learning and experience.
But, of course it is the way the tools are used that really does make an important difference, which is why I also have this interest in how this whole idea of Coaching is growing.
It is great to have had this chance to reflect, and report, on my own journey, and practice.
And now …A couple of questions for you to consider,
- Do you ever consider this idea of authenticity?
- How do you make sense of it for yourself?
To connect with Sally
I am currently working as a freelance career coach predominantly for an organisation that provides coaching for young people in schools to help them to make decisions relating to A levels, Further and Higher Education and careers.
I also work with adults looking for career transitions. The test that I use looks at aptitudes, interests and personality and helps individuals to gain an insight into these relating to the work environment.
My background of teaching in pre and post compulsory education within a largely widening participation environment enable me to help individuals explore their skills, interests and their own personality and maximise this within their career choices.
Cooley, C.H (1902) Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, (1922): 168-210.
Harter, S (2002) Authenticity in C.R. Snyder and S Lopez (Eds) Handbook of positive psychology (pp382-394) Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press
Heidegger, M (1962) Being and Time (Trans. J. Macquarie & E. Robinson) San Francisco, CA: Harper
Kernis M.H and Goldman B.M. (2005) from thought and experience to behaviour and interpersonal relationships: A multicomponent conceptualisation of authenticity. In A. Tesser, J.V. Wood and D.A Stael (Eds), On building defending and regulating the self: A psychological perspective (pp31-52). New York: Psychological Press
Kierkegaard (1846) Concluding unscientific postscript: Kierkegaard’s writings, Vol 12.1 (trans. Howard V.Hong and Edna H. Hong). New Jersey: Princeton University Press.