You hear their words, but are you buying this? Our conversations are most
genuine when we begin with well considered thoughts, acknowledge our feelings,
are clear and honest about what we want to say and we treat our listeners as
respected peers. These are the six essential elements of authentic expression.
- Straight talk.
- Making clear thinking visible.
- Earning trust.
- Common understanding.
- Congruence of intent, thought, feeling, and expression.
Candor, connecting, directness, forthrightness, frankness, genuineness, honesty,
impartiality, openness, outspokenness, probity, sincerity, straightforwardness,
transparency, truthfulness, uprightness, veracity, true talk, whole words, and straight talk,
all refer to important aspects of authentic expression.
Authentic expression requires attention to the six elements of: Peer
Relationships, Respect, Thinking,
Feeling, Clarity, and Veracity.
Communications with all of these elements help to increase trust in
relationships. Each of these elements are
described below in detail:
Peer—Equal Power—A symmetrical
relationship. When power
is balanced between the communicating parties they treat each other as equals
and facts, thoughts, opinions, and
information can emerge and be considered and examined undistorted by the deference, emphasis,
censorship, obedience, and often resentment or rebellion that characterize power differences. The information can be
considered on its own merits without anyone being unduly influenced by the
stature or reputation of the
speaker or intimidated by any threat of harm or repercussions.
Information is complete and representative rather than selective, and inquiry is
free flowing rather than suppressed or inhibited. Questions are welcome and
fully explored and responded to. Dialogue is the
only form of communication where the participants act as authentic peers
working together toward a shared understanding. It is
distinct from the power based forms of communications such as discussion,
debate, distraction, dismissal, delegation, disingenuous, diatribe, and dogma.
Censorship is also based on power rather than peer relationships. Focus on
the facts, not the power stance.
Peer communication can require patience, especially when there is a
substantial difference in the background or experiences of the participants.
Imagine a conversation between an opera singer and a physicist. If they are
discussing a complex opera topic, the opera singer will have to patiently fill
gaps in the physicist's understanding of the topic to be able to communicate
accurately. This can be difficult to accomplish without seeming to be
condescending, stating the obvious, or overlooking pertinent missing
background. However don't confuse differences in experience or background for
ignorance, stupidity, stubbornness, or status
Respect—Valuing Humanity—Don't be mean. Demonstrate
authentic positive attention as you listen, treat others as
fellow human beings, and demonstrate your
Value the intelligence of the listeners. Refrain from any form
of unkind remarks including: insult, revenge, ad hominem
attacks, barbs, cruel or mean-spirited
remarks, sarcasm, unkind jokes, slurs, digs, distortions, put downs, condescension,
non-verbal disparagements, attacks, and innuendo. Interrupt the speaker only
when it is essential to improve your
understanding and advance the conversation. Refrain from nagging, shouting,
other annoying behavior. Listen carefully to fully understand their
point of view. Ask genuine questions to increase your
understanding. Address areas of doubt and skepticism. Work to move yourself
toward what they understand. Demonstrate sincere appreciation.
Demonstrating respect provides important balance for the other dimensions of
authentic expression. For example, it is true but disrespectful and unhelpful to
tell your grandmother she looks old. It is usually unwise and disrespectful to
emphasize hurtful, disgusting, or especially private information if it is not
needed to advance the conversation. Similarly, even though you may be feeling
intense anger, it is often best to moderate your public
display of the most powerful emotions, and especially
violence. While a peer-level exchange of information is essential to healthy
dialogue, people who have achieved especially high
stature particularly deserve our respect. Strike a
balance that ensures both truth and grace with a constructive purpose.
Accomplish the task as you strengthen the relationship.
Manage time to demonstrate respect for the people and the importance of the
issues. Brevity respects the valuable time of busy people and is often the best
choice when the task is paramount. In other circumstances leisurely
conversations may be appreciated as generous contributions of your own valuable
time, thought, caring, and consideration. These extended, organic, and engaging
conversations are best when the relationship is most important or the topic is
particularly interesting, sensitive, or complex. Particularly important and
difficult issues may require several well-planned, extended, and intense
discussions to adequately explore, understand, and address. In any event, match
the time spent to the importance of both the task and the relationship.
Thinking—Original, well-founded, congruent, insightful,
relevant, and important ideas—Understand
your own thoughts, and intentions. Create important, useful, or entertaining original thoughts,
ideas, opinions, and questions based on a well founded theory of knowledge.
Deliberate, evaluate, contemplate, and decide consistent with your
values, beliefs, and
goals, as you
continue to refine these guiding foundations. The
most valuable thoughts are constructive, clear, principled, relevant, and well though-out reflections of your enduring values, beliefs,
goals, and concerns. Clear thinking is based on valid logic and accurate
research. Think clearly
Clear thinking requires us to confront our own inherent
uncertainty. No one can
master the millions of published books, thousands of world cultures, and the
ongoing ideas and accomplishments of billions of people. We can only do our best to learn
what is most important, remain curious, depend on reliable sources, stay
up-to-date in our chosen fields of interest, and make our way through an
Clear thinking is the difficult and essential prerequisite to clear expression.
acknowledge your emotions—Notice
how you feel and express your feelings authentically, both verbally and non
verbally, within constructive and
compassionate display rules. Speak from the
heart without exaggerating or minimizing your emotions.
Clarity—Making ideas visible—Clear communication,
sharing understanding, say what you mean. Carefully choose the most accurate words
and images to provide the most
complete, understandable, and precise representation of your intent. Enunciate
clearly, paying attention to accent, inflection, intonation, and sound quality. Speak
fluently with eloquence, coherence, and candor. Carefully organize your
presentation and write literately, lucidly, and legibly using correct grammar and
punctuation. Fully convey your message.
Veracity—The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—No
doublespeak, half-truths, false messages, omissions, spin, innuendo,
distortions, dismissals, misrepresentations,
confabulations, wishful thinking,
grin fakes, or plausible deniability.
Veracity requires accurate, complete, and representative facts combined with valid logic
and presented in accurate context. Ensure congruence of
your word and your intent. Accurate communications avoid
distortions and are realistic rather than
optimistic or pessimistic. Veracity
requires full understanding, acknowledgement, and acceptance of what is—the world
as it really exists, not as we wish it was. This is
essential for building trust.
Communications often lack one or more of these elements. The omissions may be
known and deliberate, or the results of an inevitable oversight. These forms of
deficient communications decrease trust in relationships. These incomplete
communications fall primarily into one of these six major categories:
Insult lacks respect. Synonyms include: attacks, crude
language, offense, disrespect, affront, cheap shot, incivility, mockery,
put-down, slander, slight, and snub.
Decrees lack the equality and balance of power that characterizes peer relationships.
Examples include dogma, dismissals, delegations, pronouncements, diatribe and
other forms of indoctrination and posturing. Main stream
media reports are another example of power-based communications because the
choice of topic, content, attention, and editing is controlled by a few powerful people
and the communication is essentially one-way. The superior posture of
condescension is not peer based and causes distortions.
Cryptic communications may be well thought out, but lack clear expression.
Synonyms include opaque, incoherent, inchoate, Fed speak, vague, nebulous,
muddled, garbled, inaudible, illegible, rambling, obscure, disorganized,
indirect, inconsistent, baffling, indecipherable, and hazy.
Blather is talking without thinking. Synonyms include gossip
and bullshit. Examples include small talk, vamping, bloviating, obscurity, and impulsive or
hot headed comments. Please get to the point, and if you don't have a point,
stay silent until you do.
Dry communications lack emotional content. This may also be described as
bland or sterile. Examples include most technical writing, legal opinions,
reference manuals, and much scholarly writing.
Lies lack veracity. This includes any misrepresentation or
distortion of reality. There are many examples including fibs,
half-truths, misrepresentations, pandering, fabrications,
exaggeration, being out-of-touch, avoidance, invalidation, hoax,
prevarication, grin-fake, bogus issues,
red-herrings, irrelevancies, feigned ignorance, discounting, denial, dismissal, distractions, fantasy, hidden agendas, and sidestepping important issues.
Several forms of communication lack more than one element. These are
described in the following chart where the missing elements are absent from the
|The six elements:
|Obfuscation—intentionally obscuring the message—lacks
clarity and veracity.
|Pitching—advocating a single point of view to promote a
special interest—lacks veracity, feeling, and respect. Withholding,
misrepresenting, or distorting important alternative viewpoints is dishonest. Often insincere
emotions such as joy and excitement are displayed, while doubt is
dismissed. The style of
communication, inherent distortions, and lack of consideration for more
important needs of the audience are often disrespectful. Other examples
include evangelizing, persuading, selling, advertising, advocating, fear mongering,
lobbying, and charming.
|Fawning—appeasing someone because they hold power
over you—lacks peer equality, veracity, feeling, and thinking. It is a failure to speak
truth to power. Appeasement, yessing,
insincere flattery, false praise, kissing up and
other failures to speak truth to power are not
authentic. They are not
peer-based communications because the primary message is submission and
obedience rather than accurate and thoughtful feedback on the issue.
They lack veracity because they are not accurate expressions of true
thoughts and feelings. The feelings expressed are not the emotions
actually experienced. The thoughts expressed are dominated by
submission, obedience, and fear rather than reflection on the issues.
Respect is often lacking because although deference is shown it may
not reflect broader and authentic considerations of humanity.
|Condescension—pretending to be a peer while
believing you are superior—lacks veracity, feeling, respect, and peer
attributes. Pretending is dishonest, it does not reflect what you think
or what you feel. It is disrespectful because it does not
recognize your common human bonds. It is not an equal, peer-based
relationship, because you do believe you are superior rather than equal.
|Vague Language—an ambiguous
message—may result from several deficiencies. It may be a lack of clear expression, or a
lack of clear thinking, or a deliberate attempt at deception and
evasiveness. It could also result from ambivalent feelings, or conflicts
between feeling and thinking. It may be some combination of two or more of
these deficiencies. Fuzzy thinking, ambiguous words, conflicting
information, complex grammar, obfuscation, and incongruence are all examples of vague language.
|Mystique—creating an aura of mystery—withholds clarity and
peer relationships to maintain distance and an enhanced image. The
mystic must remain separate to remain special. Once he is revealed as
just another one of us, the mystique is
gone. Feelings that are not authentic may be projected, diminishing
the veracity of the feeling dimension of authentic expression. These
pretenses can be disrespectful.
Demagoguery—Impassioned appeals to prejudices and emotions—evokes strong
emotions to distract from faulty thinking. The feelings are overdone,
the thinking is weak, the veracity suffers, and the ruse is
Scolding—Finding fault, blaming,
and declaring what is right—establishes an adult-child
relationship rather than a peer relationship. It lacks respect and peer
Sarcasm—bitter counterstatement—says the opposite of what you are
thinking as it passive-aggressively expresses
anger and protest. It
lacks respect, and clarity, and denies ownership for angry feelings.
Melodrama—exaggerated or unfounded emotional displays—seek to draw
unwarranted attention and distort the importance of the message being
sent. The feelings displayed are bogus and clarity and veracity are
If the essence of authentic expression can be captured in a single word it is
congruence—alignment and agreement. This includes congruence between the intent
and the the words, between the thoughts and the intent, between the words and the feelings, between the verbal and
non-verbal expression, between the facts and the words, between the words and
the actions, and congruence between the speaker and listener as humans who
respect each other as
equals. Congruence between thinking and representative
evidence, goals, beliefs,
values, and doubts is especially important to authentic
- Good writing is clear thinking made visible.
- Do what you say.
- Precise and concise.
- “If you can't improve on silence, keep quiet”. ~ Lou Holtz
- “Eschew Obfuscation.”
- “speak about this issue in fair-minded words.” ~ from Barack Obama's
Notre Dame Commencement address.
How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say,
& Get What You Want, by Meryl Runion
The Four Agreements,
by Don Miguel Ruiz
Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and
Marriage, Paul Ekman
The SPEED of Trust,
by Stephen M.R. Covey
by Harry G. Frankfurt