I am in a manic relationship that I am working on de-stressing. In just a second, a calm friendly conversation is touched by something little, most often insignificant, and the world is changed. An unwelcomed statement, a question, or even impatience at an awkward moment of silence will make the space I share become hostile, dislocated and deranged. I become someone greater than me, or weaker. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Either way, I have sometimes found myself bordering on becoming reckless, out of control and sometimes I pass that tipping point. Why does this gridlock continue to happen? Why does this other persona within me come forward? Why can I no longer act like a grown-up?
There are many answers to these questions. Some complicated and involved, but the reality is we all typically have moments while interacting with others when we don’t act like grown-ups. When we are threatened with painful interaction, we react often times with reserving our deepest thoughts — pretending, shielding ourselves from being authentic. It isn’t always hostile, but it is juvenile. Technology has made this in-authenticity even easier because there is less accountability in a virtual world. Think of the countless number of posts or tweets or e-mails that you have read or even received that are crafted without being genuine, being masked. The most hurtful things can be shared in these moments of weakness. We think that the masks we put on are to protect us, but the reality is we become counterfeit, less human and more disagreeable — especially to others.
The word “authentic” comes from Greek meaning “one who acts on his own authority.” It is seen in the greatest leaders and is performed in the raw with deeply felt impulses. Acting on your own authority has two parts to it. The internal: your thoughts and the external: how you communicate these thoughts through words or actions. Some of the greatest leaders are great because of their authenticity. Gloria Steinman, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., Vince Lombardi and Nelson Mandela knew something about owning their authority and communicating it, sometimes with very little action at all. They are phenomena. They are great. Most of us are not, but our lives are still important.
So how do we on a small scale conquer authenticity in our daily interactions? How do you de-stress a manic relationship? Nancy Dreyfus suggests talking to people like they are someone you love. She actually offers flashcards as a tool to use to communicate to people. The thought is that holding up the cards can change the course of the communication. Cards that say things like, “You are not being crazy. I can see why you’d be upset with me.” Or “All I want is for you to listen to me with an open heart.” I believe the flashcards are a bit overboard and am amused at the thought of holding one of these up in a heated discussion with my boss or “providing guidance” to my kids, but there is validity around this tool. The reality is if we could all just have a reminder – visual or otherwise – to stun our communication and redirect our thoughts, we would be in a better place and could possibly avoid the hostility, even if it is passive. The best of us do it naturally. The rest of us may just continue tweeting, posting and sending inauthentic e-mails.