HYCS #48 – Authentic = Congruent

HYCS # 48 –Authentic = Congruent


Authenticity is a way of being in the world.  The authenticity skills of saying what’s so without blame or judgment, using I statements and speaking the unspoken are like training wheels for those of us who have trouble simply being ourselves.

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Reading Time: 2.6 minutes

Assignment Time:  A hilarious 10 minutes

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Recently, I had a chance to watch a colleague work.  She was in one of those tricky situations:  Someone had promised a client a service that was all wrong for them.  And not just slightly wrong: it was catastrophically wrong for them.  The client had been assured this service was the answer to the problems they were facing.  The consultant had been warned that this client was “difficult, needy, and entitled.”

In her first meeting with this client, she opened with, “We can’t do that for you,” then sat and waited for the client’s reaction.  It took my breath away.  Her client started to speak, then paused and sat quietly for a few seconds before saying, “Why not?”  The tone of the conversation was thoughtful and curious rather than belligerent and confrontational.

The consultant laid out 3 reasons, then offered to review the plan she’d brought along outlining what she could do for this client.  This “difficult” client nodded thoughtfully, and said “I’d like to see your plan.”

It was one of the most naturally skillful exchanges I’ve ever seen.

When I asked the client about how it had been to get disappointing news up front, she said,  “It was clear I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, and that it couldn’t get any worse, so I was willing to see if it could get better.”

This consultant refused to protect her client from a difficult truth.  She didn’t agonize over how to say it to soften the blow.  Instead, she trusted her client to be resilient enough to weather the disappointment.  This gave her time come up with a plan that fit that client’s needs better.  She was rewarded with a client who trusted her and had realistic expectations in only a few minutes, the holy grail of consulting. 

Because she was so congruent with herself – that is, her words matched her tone, body language and intention to be helpful – it was easy for her client to grasp the truth and to trust her.

The 97% Rule

Remember that study that everybody misquotes, the one that says 97% of communication is nonverbal and only 7% is what’s said?  The original study was narrowly focused on what people pay attention to when your words don’t match your non-verbal communication.  When verbal and non-verbal communication are not congruent – when they don’t match – no one pays much attention to the words.  When what’s unspoken and spoken match, your communication packs a punch.

That consultant I watched was all lined up:  words, music, actions.

 Authenticity is matching the words with the music; connecting what’s spoken your tone of voice, facial expression and posture.

That’s why technique alone doesn’t work.  If you are using all the right words to establish rapport while you are trying to hide your anxiety about letting the client down, guess what will come across?  That you are hiding something.   They won’t buy your attempts to establish rapport.  Your music is drowning out your words.

If you keep telling your client that you want to help them, but aren’t showing that what they’ve said so far has touched you, they won’t believe what you are saying.

On the other hand, if your tone of voice, facial expression, posture and language line up, you will connect powerfully with your clients.

You are always communicating, even before you’ve said a thing.  And your clients are always listening.


Sometimes the best way to find your congruence is to exaggerate the mismatch between words and music.   These are more fun when you do them with a partner or in a small group, but they are effective if you only have a mirror to talk to.  Have fun with them.

Try these:

Say “I want to help,” in a dead monotone, or while looking away from the person you want to help.  Don’t be subtle about it.

Say “I have a lifelong love affair with __(your topic here)__.” while keeping your voice even and your face locked.  Would you believe you?

Say “That’s really funny,” without actually smiling.

I bet you can think of many, many more.  Sentences you use with clients are especially effective in this exercise.  I guarantee you’ll catch yourself in an inauthentic, incongruent communication soon after playing with these.  You’ll catch others as well.