WorkLife with Adam Grant
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Mohamed El-Erian: It terrified me, absolutely terrified me. And it still terrifies me.

Adam Grant: Mohamed El-Erian is an economist. And he gets a lot of requests to speak in public.

ME: No matter how often I do it, the night before, I will not sleep.

AG: What is it that you're afraid of?

ME: I'm worried about not being able to put a coherent sentence in place. I'm still worried about it right now as I'm talking to you.

AG: (Laughs) Last year, he was asked to give a speech about the global economy at a dinner in New York. When he showed up, Mohamed found out that the host had neglected to mention a few things about the audience.

ME: The first one is, they are precious metal traders.

AG: You know, people who trade in one of the most volatile, risky financial products out there.

ME: Which means their attention span is a few minutes at most. And second, he said, "They've been drinking for the last hour. So they're a bit rowdy." I said, "OK." (Chuckles) "Is there something else?" He said, "Yeah, just one more thing. Last year, the person who did it lost control of the crowd, and the precious metal traders, some of them got up with their bread rolls and threw them onstage."

AG: They threw rolls at the presenter?

ME: They did.

AG: Ugh! Where they at least soft rolls?

ME: They were soft rolls.

AG: If someone tells you your audience is drunk and might pelt you with food, you should probably call a cab. But Mohamed, who's jittery even when things are going well, who overprepares for everything, did something different.

ME: I went onstage and said, "I'm super anxious right now. And I've been told that last year, you got impatient with the speaker. And some of you picked up the bread roll and threw it."

AG: (Laughs)

ME: "In fact, I'm not just anxious, I'm scared."

AG: In that moment, Mohamed didn't hide his insecurities. He admitted them out loud, sharing his real feelings with the audience. When you're nervous about a big performance, whether it's a speech or a job interview, people often say, "Just be yourself." It's practically gospel in the world of work advice these days. "Be authentic." But what does it really mean to be authentic? And is it always the right choice?

(WorkLife theme music)

AG: I'm Adam Grant. And this is WorkLife, my podcast with TED. I'm an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, I'm inviting myself inside the minds of some truly unusual people, because they've mastered something I wish everyone knew about work. Today — authenticity, and why bringing your whole self to work might be more complicated than you think.

Thanks to Accenture for sponsoring this episode.

For decades, many workplaces expected people to leave parts of themselves at home. "Don't show your anxiety in a performance review." "Don't tell your boss what you really think of her idea." "And don't wear a Hawaiian shirt unless it's Hawaiian Shirt Friday." But today, in part, thanks to the popularity of self-expression in Silicon Valley companies, there's a growing awareness that people need the freedom to be themselves at work, to be authentic.


Recorded speaker 1: I'm going to talk a little bit about the power of authenticity.

Recorded speaker 2: I was asked to speak about authenticity.

AG: It kind of feels like we're living in the age of authenticity.

Recorded speaker 3: I'm here to tell you that the world needs your authentic self-expression.

AG: It's a liberating mantra: "Be yourself. Don't worry about what everyone else thinks."

Recorded speaker 4: This push for authenticity is awesome.

Recorded speaker 5: I'm being authentic. I did not rehearse this. You're about to get 18 minutes of me unplugged.

AG: So what exactly is authenticity? It seems like there are about as many variations on the concept as there are people who use it. Here's what it doesn't mean — being a fake or a phony. It's being genuine. As a psychologist, I think about authenticity as erasing the gap between what you think and feel on the inside and what you share on the outside. And that can apply in a few different realms — sharing your genuine feelings, your opinions and your ideas.

Look, there's good reason to value authenticity. Evidence shows that when you have the freedom to express your thoughts and emotions, your energy soars and so does your effectiveness. And when you feel you can't be authentic at work, you're more likely to become stressed and exhausted. It can be stifling. If you're an entrepreneur pitching a start-up or a job candidate pitching yourself, pretending to be who you think others want you to be can make you anxious and hurt your performance. You do want to work somewhere that accepts your authentic self. But expressing that self isn't always straightforward.

A while back, psychologists conducted a huge meta-analysis, a study of studies synthesizing data from more than 20,000 people. It turned out that, on average, the more people focused on being themselves at work, the less successful they were. For reasons we're about to explore, they got lower performance reviews and fewer promotions. Being authentic has some landmines. And I've developed some guidelines about how to avoid stepping on them.

Let's start with one kind of authenticity: emotional vulnerability, letting people see your real feelings, like Mohamed with those metal traders. We all get nervous. Sometimes we're encouraged to fake it till we make it. But Mohamed chose to be real and sprinkled in some humor, too.

ME: I said, "I've been told that last year you took to the bread rolls that you have in front of you and threw it at the speaker. So let me tell you what I'm going to do. I've asked the people sitting in the tables right next to the stage to serve as my human shield."

AG: And it worked!

ME: And I ended up speaking for 40 minutes, and there were lots of questions. Can you tell, I still remember it vividly? (Chuckles)

AG: Why did Mohamed's authenticity resonate with the audience? Classic and recent experiments suggest that showing vulnerability humanizes you, and people tend to like that. But there's a crucial caveat: it only works if you've already proven your competence. You were impressive before, but now you're relatable, too.


AG: For Mohamed, being authentic worked because he had already established his qualifications. The metal traders knew he wasn't just an economist. He had been a wildly successful trader, then the CEO of a big financial company and the chair of President Obama's Global Development Council. Plus, on top of his credentials, Mohamed proved his competence in reading a room with that joke about the front row being his shield. If you haven't already demonstrated that you're capable, though, showing vulnerability can have the opposite effect.

Take a recent study of lawyers interviewing for jobs. Focusing on expressing themselves only increased their odds of getting a job offer if their resumes had already impressed the interviewer. The only lawyers who benefited from being authentic were the ones who'd been ranked in the top 10 percent of candidates going into the interview. And for lawyers in the bottom half of the resume pool, striving to be themselves in the interview decreased their chances of landing jobs. This isn't unique to lawyers. The results were similar for teachers, too.

So this is guideline number one: authenticity without boundaries is careless. Be careful that the vulnerability you choose to show doesn't cast doubt on your competence. Notice what Mohamed didn't say. He didn't tell the group he was afraid he would forget his material or stumble over his words. The fear he expressed was about the audience, not his preparation.

(Musical interlude)

AG: When we hear, "Be authentic," many of us hear, "Be more honest," which is another way of saying, "Don't sugarcoat things. Say what you really think." That's another kind of authenticity, being blunt with your opinions, which you see an awful lot on the internet. People seem to feel like they can say nearly anything online under the guise of, "I'm just being authentic." But what happens when that kind of online commentary is your job?

Leah Finnegan: There is one specific incident that kind of haunts me.

AG: Leah Finnegan is a journalist. In 2015, she was working at "Gawker," the notoriously irreverent, gossipy website. It was a place where raw self-expression online was rewarded and encouraged. It was Leah's job to share her unfiltered views. It was a company standard.

LF: We felt like we could do whatever we wanted to and people would respond to it.

AG: And often they would. The more outrageous the article, the more clicks it received, the better the website performed, and on and on. It was a perfect fit for how Leah saw herself.

LF: ... a salty bitch who hated everything and was very extreme in her opinions.

AG: Usually those opinions were trashing celebrity baby names or articles in prestigious newspapers. But the problem was, that's how Leah treated everything, online and off.

LF: During union negotiations at my company, I left a comment on a blog post saying, "Unions suck dick." That was something I felt was valid to express. And you know, I just thought I was right.

AG: Apparently, Leah's parents had had bad experiences with unions, but obviously not everyone agreed with her take. Her comment got a lot of attention. At some point, she googled her name, and she saw herself referred to as Leah "Unions suck dick" Finnegan.

LF: That kind of haunts me, that I might have a legacy as a union buster, which is not great. In fact, unions do a lot of good and have been good for the digital media industry. So I regret that.

AG: Leah was just being her authentic self. It felt good in the moment, but over time, the reactions from other people got to her.

LF: Well, I was angry a lot of the time because I didn't understand why ... people didn't accept me as I was, online and in real life.

AG: That's when she got a tip: be less authentic.

LF: Yes, well, that was advice from my therapist, who I started seeing after I was like, "I'm this way, and no one is responding to it the way I want them to." And it took a lot of inner strength to pull away from that and kind of be like, "I have to work on portraying myself differently." It was kind of like, "You need to think about how other people see you, and it's not their problem if they see you a certain way. It's your problem."

AG: Her therapist wasn't advising her to be fake, but to avoid being completely individualistic, to think of others, too.

LF: I think that has benefited my life.

AG: Sometimes people get so absorbed in expressing their own opinions that they lose sight of how they affect others. In Leah's view, focusing less on authenticity has made her more effective.

LF: I think I've become a lot more ... some might call it "mature" in how I talk to people. You know, because there are consequences. Like, if you're just focused on being yourself, you're not focused on anyone else.

AG: It's common to think of authenticity as something that's all about me — "How do I express myself in the world?" But other people have to be part of that equation. Authenticity can't exist in a vacuum. I found in my research that concern for others is a critical ingredient for effective authenticity.

This is guideline number two: authenticity without empathy is selfish. I often hear people explain their actions by saying, "Well, I was just being myself." That's not an excuse for disrespectful behavior. Sure, we should be true to our values, but we might want to consider others' values, too. Or as David Sedaris puts it:

(Recording) David Sedaris: Be yourself, unless your self is an asshole.

(Audience laughs)

Herminia Ibarra: One of the problems with the "bring your whole self to work" framing is that it's narcissistic. What about taking an interest in the other person? Herminia Ibarra is an organizational behavior professor at London Business School. She's a leading expert on authenticity at work.

HI: Authentic leadership, which I actually traced in the press and kind of saw the line go up exponentially, really has become a very popular notion. I think we kind of reached peak authenticity a few years back.

AG: In the past, when we talked about authenticity, we weren't usually describing people.

HI: The original meaning is from the world of art, that which can be authenticated, meaning, trace back to the person who made it of their own hands. And in leadership, I think this really came out of the number of scandals that hit, starting in the 1980s and '90s, and that decline in trust in leaders. What is authentic? What is real? What is true and therefore worthy of trust?

AG: Early in her own career, when she first started teaching, Herminia struggled with authenticity.

HI: I did really poorly for a number of years, and everybody was giving me advice about what to do, and of course nothing fit. And what I was struck with was the least helpful feedback was, "Just be yourself, Herminia." And of course that was the worst feedback to get because the problem was I was too much myself, you know, too introverted, too nervous, too academic, too theoretical — all of those things.

AG: But when a colleague suggested doing the opposite, that felt wrong, too.

HI: He literally said to me, "You have to be a dog and go mark your territory in each the four corners of that amphitheater."

AG: In her research, Herminia wanted to explore how we adapt to new roles at work. So she launched a study of how young professionals navigate career transitions. She didn't start out focusing on authenticity, but she quickly saw that for the participants, finding their authentic selves was a big challenge.

HI: That was a study of how young consultants and investment bankers managed the transition away from doing analytical and project work to actually having to be rainmakers and to manage relationships with clients. And so they had to kind of put on an image of something that they felt they were not quite yet.

AG: The bankers and consultants were testing out what she called "provisional selves," and it made some of them uncomfortable.

HI: It was a real sense that, "This isn't me. I can't see myself that way. I'm going to have to find my own way through this." It was just really a major threat to their sense of self.

AG: So they stuck to their existing identities instead of trying new styles of self-presentation that felt unfamiliar to them. As a result, they often struggled to adapt to and excel in their new roles.

But others embraced it. They'd observed their senior colleagues being assertive with some clients while gently guiding others. And they'd experiment with those provisional selves to make them their own. The most successful young professionals in her study weren't worried about staying true to themselves. They were striving to develop themselves.

HI: The knee-jerk reaction is, "I'm fixed, this is who I am, and this is just not within the realm of the possible." And the minute you say to people, "Does being authentic condemn you to being as you always have been?" they get it. You know, identity — it's super multifaceted. It's made up of traits, roles, emotions, aspirations — all of these kinds of things.

AG: That's a key lesson here. No one has just one authentic self. We have multiple selves. Think about all the identities you hold at work. Your taskmaster self is probably different from your mentor self, your presenter self and your conference call self. And I hope it's different from your drinks-after-work self. You get to choose which selves you express in which situations, and those selves are evolving all the time So as you move into new territory, it helps to test out different selves to see what feels like you. That's what Herminia ended up doing in her own teaching. She tried out different provisional selves, moving around the classroom more and engaging students more in interactive discussions.

HI: It changed from being, "I have content to deliver," to, "I'm there to facilitate an experience in which people are open to learning, engage, having fun and participating." And that was the result of trying these very unnatural tactics. And I learned much more from it than doing anything that vaguely approximated my sense of my authentic self at that point in time.

AG: She started to excel when she developed a style that worked for her.

HI: So it's always a balance of what stays permanent, what's continuous, what's core to who you are and then what is it that you're going to grow, learn and discover. We come to inflection points in our lives in which we say, "Hey, wait a minute. I'm so much more than this, and I want to give some attention to that."

AG: Yet for some people, the effort to develop and express their authentic selves has extra landmines. More on that after the break.

(WorkLife theme music)

AG: OK, this is going to be a different kind of ad. I've played a personal role in selecting the sponsors for this podcast because they all have interesting cultures of their own. Today, we're going inside the workplace at Accenture.

(Musical interlude)

AG: I meet a lot of people who are pretty into their jobs. To gauge if they might be a little obsessed, I like to ask, "Where's the strangest place you've checked your work email?"

Joanne McMorrow: The ski lift, going up the mountain, with the winds and the snow that was blowing at me. For some strange reason, I felt the need to pull the phone out, pull the gloves off and check the email.

AG: This is Joanne McMorrow, a director at Accenture. I think the chairlift phone check firmly lands her in the category of engaged workaholic. So much so, that two years ago, when Joanne began having some pretty odd headaches, she brushed them off.

JM: I was working a lot of hours. I had two little kids. There was just work, life. My own health was probably falling to the last of my priorities at the time.

AG: At the urging of her wife, Joanne finally met with the doctor, who ordered some tests. When he came back with the results —

JM: They didn't need to tell me anything. The X-ray was actually sitting on the X-ray machine, and as clear as day, I could see the tumor.

AG: The tumor needed to come out right away. So Joanne was rushed to the emergency room for a craniotomy. When she woke up, she wasn't only worried about her recovery.

JM: At the time, I thought I was going to take a week off of work. I know — major brain surgery, a week off work probably to anyone else would seem ridiculous. I was just feeling guilty about taking that much time because I had no preparation to prep my team for this.

AG: To her boss and everyone else at Accenture, that was ridiculous.

JM: My boss really was the one that sort of put in my head, "You really need to make sure you're taking care of yourself and doing what's best for you." And it just so happened she was right.

AG: There's evidence that self-care isn't just important for health. It's critical to maintaining energy and performance, too. Accenture encouraged Joanne to care for herself as much as she did her job. Joanne realized she needed to make a change. And once she returned to the office, people around her noticed a new Joanne.

Stephanie Williams McConnell: Her perspective absolutely changed in terms of, "OK, this feels really important today, but in six months, it's not going to feel as important, and let's make sure that my health, my well-being, all of those types of things aren't being compromised, because in six months, those things will still matter." That's Joanne's boss, Stephanie Winters McConnell. Note, don't get me wrong — Joanne still works hard.

JM: I'm definitely committed, I'm dedicated, I'm driven. But I do so in a very intentional, meaningful way.

SWM: She has always been a very compassionate and empathetic person, but I saw a significant shift in leading with that first. Not just driving to get things done but ensuring that along the way she's taking care of herself, but everybody around her is as well.

AG: Joanne is not only living a more balanced life. She's also encouraging her team members to do the same.

JM: I lead some of my calls in a surprising way and have everyone talk about what have they done for themselves in the past week. Not at work, but what have they done for themselves. So it allows us to hold each other accountable.

AG: And when her colleagues run into trouble, Joanne's there for them, just like they were for her.

JM: Two weeks ago, one of my direct reports called me to share with me that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. And I just knew what we needed to do to support her. And just on Friday, she sent me an email saying how grateful she is for the support that she's gotten as she heads into this. Having that impact and knowing that in sharing my story and in changing the way that I have that we could be part of her journey that she's about to go through and that she feels that support — that's probably one of the most important things for me.


AG: Accenture is working to become one of the most truly human companies in the digital age. Learn more at

(Musical interlude)

Carmen Medina: I used to describe myself as a heretic, because I'm a heretic. I like the word because it means someone whose views are different from the prevailing orthodoxy. And that certainly characterized me.

AG: Carmen Medina spent years as a heretic, not in a religious context, but in a place almost as strict — the CIA.

CM: I was never a spy. I did travel to Iraq and Afghanistan. I think Afghanistan once and Iraq twice. And riding the helicopters at night — open helicopters, by the way — flying at rooftop level to get from the airport to the Green Zone — I thought was pretty exciting and not what I expected to be doing when I was a little kid.

AG: Carmen had already worked for the CIA for more than a decade when the Cold War ended in 1989, and the agency started undergoing a tectonic shift.

CM: And I kept getting asked to serve on task forces explicitly about how should the CIA change and modify itself, what should be the new strategic plan now that this focus we had, the Cold War, is ending. So I'm thinking, "I'm on a task force. Like, this will — clearly, they must want to know what I really think." And so, I would say in the task force what I really think.

AG: Carmen was certain that this newfangled thing called the internet would transform her job and her organization. And she didn't hide that belief.

CM: I am convinced that the internet is going to change everything about how knowledge organizations do their work. And I think it will be very important for the CIA to figure out how they're going to adapt to digital technology. I just thought that, you know, the oceans would part and people would recognize the wisdom of what I was saying, but all I got was resistance and kind of evil stares. The internet was about open information and sharing information and making information freely available. And what's the CIA about? Well, not that.


AG: This is another type of authenticity: nonconformity. When you act differently than your organization's norms dictate, like swearing on a team that avoids profanity, publicly calling out errors in an office that favors privacy or quietly going home each night when all your coworkers head to happy hour. Sure, you want to be authentic. But what happens when your authentic self runs counter to the culture of your workplace? Carmen, a natural heretic in an organization that cherishes strict hierarchies, was about to find out.

CM: A senior leader, a woman came up to me and said, "Carmen, you're just going to have to censor yourself. You need to stop saying some of the things you're saying. You have a bright career in front of you, and you're going to ruin it if you keep talking like this."

AG: For a while, Carmen did censor herself. She suppressed the part of her that was a heretic. She created what's called a "facade of conformity." She put on a mask and pretended to align with the CIA's values. Research shows that's a great way to burn yourself out. And finally, after nearly two years, the mask slipped.

CM: "I'm just sick and tired of this! All you care about is getting promoted and getting ahead in the organization. And things — the organization is headed in the wrong direction, and you just are not going to say anything." It was my authentic belief.

AG: Carmen refused to conform. She couldn't let go of this idea that the internet would change the CIA, and she didn't adjust the way she expressed her idea, either. Eventually, the CIA sidelined her.

CM: Nobody would hire me. I got the really helpful feedback from someone who did not choose me for a position. He says, "You know, your reputation is that you're cynical and negative." And I was like, "Wow."

AG: Unfortunately, the pressure to conform can be even stronger for members of nondominant groups. That might be true if you're a salesperson in an organization dominated by engineers, or a native Southerner in a team of New Yorkers, or more fundamentally, a woman of color in a workplace run by white men. For Carmen, being a double minority amplified the challenges of having heretical views.

CM: I recognized that the only way I could survive at the CIA was that I had to give up. I had to drop some of the things that I thought were really important for me. So yes, in that sense, I became less authentic.

AG: This experience at the CIA knocked the authenticity out of Carmen's self-expression. When other people dictate the terms of your authenticity, that's the definition of inauthentic. Just ask Alicia Menendez. It's happened to her multiple times.

Alicia Menendez: I was told that I needed to, like, liven up my look and get some T-shirts, and some leather jackets and wear the things that the kids were wearing. And I was somehow supposed to become that edgy, hip, cool person, instead of just being my, you know, 30-something dorky self.

AG: Alicia is now an anchor at MSNBC and the author of "The Likability Trap," a book about the pressure women face to be who other people want them to be.

AM: I sometimes get the sense, and other women I spoke with got the sense, that when they were told, "Be yourself," it wasn't, "Be whoever that is." It was, "Be who I expect that person to be, predicated on your gender, your race, your ethnicity, how old you are, and then show up as my imagined version of who that ought to be." There is often a sense that I would benefit professionally if I were less Latina-ish Liz Lemon and more, to quote Cardi B, "spicy mommy hot tamale." It would be like, "I need this, but smokier." (Laughs)

AG: (Laughs) What? People tell you that?

AM: Yeah. There is a sense of how a Latina is supposed to self-present, and that can be a wild caricature. Now, I've got to say, Adam, I've also heard it from Latinas on the complete flip, where their English is accented, and they're told that they need to tone down their Latina-ness. So ...

AG: Ugh.

AM: It takes lots of forms.

AG: If someone is pushing you to fit their idea of your authentic self, especially if it's based on stereotypes, something has gone very wrong.

AM: I'm just curious — I mean, have you ever gotten any of this? Have you ever been sort of given the sense —

AG: (Laughs)

AM: ... that you could be something other than the way you are?

AG: No. I mean, every once in a while I get suggestions like, "You should move less like a Muppet."

AM: (Laughs)

AG: But that's more objective, "Let's try to get you to move and communicate more like a normal person."

AM: No one's ever told you how to be more professor-ish.

AG: No!

AM: I think what sometimes gets lost in this conversation when you talk to people who work at companies that are telling them to bring their whole selves to work, they often feel that the company hasn't done the work necessary to receive them as they are. And it even seemed to me that the louder and the more insistent an organization was about bringing your whole self to work, almost the less work they'd done to make that actually possible.

AG: People who don't fit the dominant culture in an organization learn the hard way that they sometimes have to hide their authentic identities and ideas. They try to fit into that expectation, intentionally or subconsciously, even though it doesn't feel right. Let's say the conformity pressure you're feeling at work is about norms and values, not cultural stereotypes. How do you break through that pressure and get heard when people don't want to listen?

CM: When you're a minority, however you might be a minority in an organization, you're already a rebel.

AG: To get her career back on track at the CIA, Carmen Medina didn't have to suppress her identity as an original thinker. But she did need to build up her reputation as someone committed to the mission. And so this is guideline number three: authenticity without status and trust is risky. Before you challenge organizational culture, it helps to demonstrate your loyalty first. There's a special kind of status that allows you to get away with nonconformity. In psychology, it's called "idiosyncrasy credit." Once you prove your value to your group, you earn a license to deviate from expectations.

Research backs this up. A series of experiments show that trying to wield power before earning status tends to breed conflict with colleagues and superiors. When Carmen tried to voice her authentic ideas, she hadn't accumulated enough idiosyncrasy credit to fight the status quo at the CIA. In order to turn things around, Carmen had to show that she was dedicated to the mission. One day, she came across a CIA role focused on keeping classified publications secure, one she could excel at.

CM: And I went, "That's it! If I can just perform the other duties really, really well, then maybe I will get a chance to explore what's really my passion." Carmen saw an opportunity to earn some idiosyncrasy credit. By demonstrating her value in the new job, she could show that she was aligned with the CIA's core values.

CM: And we nailed it. I think that that really restored or changed the organization's view of me and restored it as a much more competent person. And I now had authority and status. And so, people were much more receptive to my ideas.

AG: With that credibility under her belt, Carmen also reframed her heretical ideas as conforming to the CIA's values.

CM: So instead of standing on the soapbox and saying, "We have to be completely different, or we're going to die!" you know, which is what I did in the late '90s, I think you need to say, "The organization has this objective, and I think these ideas could help us achieve these objectives more effectively." And I think you need to start there.

AG: She realized there was another part of her authentic identity that she could express. She wasn't just a heretic who saw problems. She was also someone who solved them.

CM: I would describe myself as a change agent. I use that word.

AG: Carmen had set herself up to have real influence. After September 11, 2001, her colleagues were finally forced to recognize the importance of speed in sharing information. Carmen became a major force in ushering the intelligence community in to the digital era, enabling people to share ideas online in real time in a secure way across agencies. She ended up getting promoted all the way up to Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA. CM: You're not going to win those battles if you do a frontal assault every time. And sadly, for a lot of organizations, behaving in your authentic way can be perceived as a frontal attack. And I just think that's horrible. But that is still the world that we live in.


AG: Look, you shouldn't have to hide your opinions and emotions at work or your ideas and identities. But it doesn't hurt to reflect on the many different selves that are already part of who you are and the selves you might become as you evolve. It makes sense to be thoughtful about which ones you share and when, where and how you express them. After all, you want to be authentic, but you also want to be professional, to set smart boundaries, show empathy and not just challenge norms, but earn the license to change them. You don't have to bring your whole self to work. I think effective authenticity is more about bringing your best selves to work, the ones that bring out the best in others, too.

(WorkLife theme music)

Next time on WorkLife.

Person: You know, 40 seconds of interaction, a positive, caring interaction has measurable impacts on both people. Forty seconds. Forty seconds!

AG: Ways to tackle loneliness at work.

WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. The show is produced by TED with Transmitter Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, Constanza Gallardo, Grace Rubenstein, Michelle Quint, Angela Cheng and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced by Jessica Glazer. Our show is mixed by Rick Kwan. Original music by Hahnsdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown. Ad stories produced by Pineapple Street Studios.

Special thanks to our sponsors, Accenture, BetterUp, Hilton and SAP.

For their research, thanks to Patricia Hewlin on facades of conformity; David Day and Deidra Schleicher on self-monitoring; Elliot Aronson and colleagues on the pratfall effect; Kerry Gibson and colleagues on the risks of vulnerability; Dan Cable and Virginia Kay on the double-edged sword of self-verification; Jonathan Evans and colleagues on self-deprecating jokes; Edwin Hollander on idiosyncrasy credit; and Alison Fragale, Nate Fast and colleagues on power without status.

AG: I hear a lot of leaders say, "Be authentic! Bring your whole self to work!" What would you encourage them to say instead?

HI: Don't use platitudes. That's the first thing I would say, is don't.

AG: (Laughs)

HI: Honestly! Authenticity also has a sense of uniqueness. Everybody and their brother has said exactly the same thing.

AG: (Chuckles)

HI: I'm not advising leaders to not be authentic. I'm advising them to maybe be a little bit more original in what they want to convey to others. (Laughs)

AG: (Laughs) I think that's great advice.