The power of Generative Communication rests on the authenticity of the people who are communicating. Simply put, authenticity is the quality of being genuine or real, believable, and trustworthy. It means that our values, ideals, and actions are aligned; we’re honest with ourselves and others, and we take responsibility for our actions. While authenticity is a topic of historical analyses and philosophical debate, it stands as an ideal that impacts social and political thinking in contemporary societies.1
Authenticity begins with self-awareness: knowing who we are from the inside out—our values, emotions, competencies, vulnerabilities, and how we choose to disclose ourselves to others.2 Self-awareness is fostered by self-inquiry, the first step toward communicating authentically with ourselves. Being honest with ourselves feeds the authenticity of our interactions with others and the circumstances we share. I call this inside-out communication, a central feature of Generative Communication.
Learning to communicate honestly with ourselves is no easy task. It requires a willingness to question ourselves, explore our core integrity, acknowledge our vulnerabilities, and examine the origin of our lifeviews.
I often ask individuals within the groups and organizations I work with, and in classes I teach, to drill down and identify their core integrity3 by considering the following questions:
Some find these questions annoying. Many have not thought much about them or consider them irrelevant to the topic at hand. Nonetheless, I persist and ask people to write down their answers. If it’s a workshop or classroom exercise, I often invite them to share only what they wish to share with another person in the room, preferably someone they don’t know well.
This is not an exercise in true confession! Quite the opposite: It invites people to be honest with themselves and share only what they choose in a particular setting. I ask partners to listen non-judgmentally with respect and interest and to ask clarifying questions that reflect what they’re hearing.
The first round of sharing answers to these integrity questions is often superficial. People barely scrape the surface of their authentic selves, which is quickly revealed through the process of sharing. A second round of private contemplation invites individuals to take a deeper look inside themselves, enabling greater clarity of who they are in relation to their actions.
I assign students in my graduate classes to write a paper about their experience of answering the questions, what they learned in the process, and how their core integrity relates to their chosen course of study. They are often quite taken by the personal insights they discover about themselves through this thought exercise.
Stop and think about how you would answer these questions.
Answering the core integrity questions truthfully often exposes individuals to the experience of vulnerability—even when they choose not to share their answers with another. For some, it may be the first time they have come face-to-face with the contradiction of what they claim about themselves versus an action that belies that claim.
Getting in touch with one’s vulnerabilities is a good thing. It’s a key element of knowing oneself. The feeling of vulnerability is a reminder that our certainties about ourselves and our circumstances are not absolute. Acknowledging our vulnerabilities can lead to a more trusting relationship with others as they, too, may be willing to explore their own sense of vulnerability in a particular set of circumstances.
Recognizing and examining our individual lifeviews is another good self-awareness exercise. In my Generative Communication work, I’ve coined the term “lifeview” to refer to the unique point of view each of us has based on our unique life experiences from birth to the present moment coupled with our unique genetic makeup.
No two people are alike, even identical twins, nor do they perceive the world in exactly the same way. Our individual lifeviews act as filters for perceiving and interpreting what is going on (WIGO) around us in every moment. Our lifeviews often incorporate “worldviews,” shared by communities of individuals steeped in similar cultures, beliefs, and assumptions—often presumed to be indisputable truths. Religions, economic and political ideologies are examples of cultural worldviews we might have adopted as part of our uniquely individual lifeviews.
Examining our individual lifeviews, and acknowledging the unique lifeviews of others, helps us begin to accept and work with our sometimes dramatically different points of view.
Consider for a moment:
Understanding the origins, and natural limitations, of our individual lifeviews can help us pay attention and learn to respect the differing lifeviews of others.
Together, our core integrity, acknowledged vulnerabilities and unique lifeviews provide an opening to communicating with ourselves about who we are, where we come from, and what we stand for.
THIS is the ground upon which we can begin to communicate with others and our circumstances—GENERATIVELY!
These examples will no doubt trigger a few examples of your own.
Examples of people acting with integrity in their daily lives—instances where they demonstrate their commitment to honesty, fairness, ethical behavior, and doing what is morally right.
Examples of everyday people acting without integrity in their daily lives. Note: while we humans are fallible and may occasionally act without integrity, it’s the observable and reliable patterns of integrous behavior that reveal who we are in our interactions with others and our circumstances.
|Acting With Integrity|
|Kindness to strangers: Helping a stranger in need without expecting anything in return, from aiding someone with a flat tire to providing food to a homeless person.|
|Environmental stewardship: Actively practicing sustainable habits, such as recycling, conserving energy and water, reducing waste, or participating in environmental cleanup efforts.|
|Returning a lost wallet: John finds a wallet on the street. Instead of keeping it and pocketing the money inside, John goes out of his way to locate the owner and return the wallet with all its contents intact. He acts with integrity by choosing honesty and doing what is right, even when no one is watching.|
|Keeping confidential information confidential: As a healthcare professional, Emma comes across sensitive patient information daily. She upholds strict confidentiality and privacy standards, ensuring that she only shares patient information on a need-to-know basis and maintains utmost discretion. Emma’s commitment to safeguarding patient confidentiality exemplifies her integrity in upholding professional ethics.|
|Acting Without Integrity|
|Lying and deceit: Consistently lying or deceiving others for personal gain, such as lying about qualifications for a job, spreading false information to manipulate others, or dishonestly representing themselves in personal relationships.|
|Exploitation and manipulation: Taking advantage of others for personal gain, like manipulating vulnerable individuals for financial or emotional purposes, engaging in fraudulent schemes, or coercing others into actions they are not comfortable with.|
|Financial fraud: Mike, a financial advisor, misappropriates his clients’ funds for personal gain. He acts without integrity by breaching the trust placed in him and engaging in fraudulent activities that harm his clients’ financial well-being.|
|Workplace misconduct: Amanda, a supervisor at a company, engages in favoritism by providing promotions and benefits based on personal relationships rather than merit or qualifications. She acts without integrity by compromising fairness and equal opportunity, favoring personal connections over professional standards.|
1 https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authenticity/ 2 https://hbr.org/2013/10/be-yourself-but-carefully 3 I was introduced to this exercise many years ago by my colleague, Steve Bosserman
Great questions, Mary! A bit of misleading communication, however, to say “Consider for a moment” : ) … Love, SueSu