Let me paint a picture for you. The average member of today’s society has become immersed in technology, navigating life behind the confines of computers and smartphones, and learning more and more how to disregard reality. Not only that, we have developed an ability to sit in a crowded room and mentally “check-out” unaware of what is going on around us, our attention captivated by the digital device in front of us. This is how we communicate in the 21st century.
Advances in technology and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, have substantially altered the way humans interact. In a sense, innovative technologies have made our lives easier, allowing us to connect and build relationships with people from all over the world, and enabling companies to run more efficiently. On the other hand, information technologies may be interfering with our ability to learn effective social skills that are necessary for navigating healthy relationships. In essence, e-mail, texting, and social media provide the perfect platform for people to hide behind the “masks” of modern technology.
“Man is least himself when he walks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Research out of Harvard University has claimed that successful college graduates must possess a ratio of 80% emotional-social intelligence (ESI) to 20% book smarts. This poses a major problem for modern society, as recent studies have found that today’s college graduates are less empathetic than college students from the 1980’s and 90’s. Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a meta-analysis to assess data on 14,000 college students over the past thirty years and found that today’s college students are about 40% less empathetic than their older generational counterparts. Another study of 16,500 college students between 1982 and 2006, found that college students today are more narcissistic than previous generations. These studies go hand in hand, as narcissists lack empathy or emotional warmth, are more dishonest and are more likely to have short-lived romantic relationships. In yet another study conducted of 140 students enrolled at Stanford University found that the students demonstrated an inability to accurately gauge other’s happiness even when they were evaluating the moods of those closest to them such as friends, roommates and significant others. It has been speculated that an increase in the use of technology and social media are contributing factors to the decreasing rates of empathy and increased narcissism among younger generations.
This poses a real and significant problem for younger generations who reportedly prefer texting over face-to-face communication. The same holds true for many adults who find it easier to communicate online, choosing their devices over in-person meetings. Furthermore, more and more people are choosing to work remotely providing even less opportunity to socially engage with others face-to-face, thus promoting a more solitary lifestyle.
In a world of increased narcissism and a decreased capacity to effectively read people, how can we discern genuine, authentic people from narcissistic manipulators? Even more, how can we challenge our perceptions and not automatically believe the artificially perfected information that is presented in our newsfeeds?
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~Henry David Thoreau
The following is a list of characteristics of authentic people derived from research and my own personal experiences as a psychotherapist in studying human behavior.
Authentic: “Not false or copied; genuine; real; representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.”
12 Key Traits of Highly Authentic People:
- Their Words and Actions Are Congruent. Authentic people demonstrate a high level of congruence between their internal feelings and outward displays of emotion and behaviors; demonstrating consistency across all channels. By maintaining congruence, authentic people live in direct accordance with their dreams, beliefs, values, mission, and goals. Psychologist Carl Rogers described the congruent individual as “genuine, real, integrated, whole, and transparent,” whereas a non-congruent person “tries to impress, play a role, puts up a front, and hides behind a facade.”
- They Are Transparent, Honest, and Assertive. Authentic people live by the motto, “What you see is what you get.” They tell and live their truth even when it is difficult to do so. Whether it’s in person or online, authentic people do not pretend to be someone or something they are not in order to fit in or gain the approval of others. Because authentic people have a strong sense of self, they do not perceive criticism as a personal attack and avoid passive-aggressive or manipulative communication styles at all costs. Instead, they are able to objectively evaluate negative and constructive feedback, identify what works, put it into practice, and leave the rest behind without developing hard feelings towards others.
- They Demonstrate Reciprocity in Relationships. Authentic people know the importance of developing reciprocal relationships that are built on honesty, compassion, and mutual respect. They understand the reward-cost balance in relationships and because they are highly self-aware and confident, are generous with their own knowledge and resources. They do not hold information back for fear that others will take advantage or steal their ideas. In fact, they believe that other’s success is their success.
- They Are Open-Minded. Authentic people value trust, faith, and acceptance. Because they are open-minded, they are willing to entertain new thoughts and ideas that may challenge their own beliefs. Authentic people live by a code of values and morals; however, they are more than willing to listen to the opinions of others and are open to learning from their mistakes.
- They Make You Feel at Ease. Authentic people wholeheartedly accept other people for who they are. Their lack of judgment and open-minded nature of others make them approachable both in and out of the workplace. In general, authentic people exude a genuine presence that puts others at ease, leading people to naturally gravitate toward them.
- They Are Not Superficial. Authentic people are who they are and because they are confident and self-assured, do not feel the need to make everyone like them. Because authentic people do not worry about being liked or being in the spotlight, they are willing to go against the grain and make unpopular decisions when needed.
- They Are Not Swayed by Material Objects. Authentic people do not base their happiness off what they have or do not have. Instead, they find happiness from within and from the simpler pleasures in life. Authentic people find that having meaningful experiences and strong bonds with others make life worth living. They focus on the lives they have touched, rather than how much money or material items they have acquired.
- They Take Personal Responsibility. Authentic people hold themselves accountable for their words, decisions, and actions, despite the outcome. They are empowered to admit to failures and do not shift blame for their own wrongdoings. They know their weaknesses and mistakes and focus on taking corrective action in the face of failure.
- They Cultivate Meaningful Relationships. Authentic people live by the old adage, “You are the average of the five closest people you surround yourself with.” Instead of hanging around others who are disingenuous, authentic people choose to surround themselves with people who share the same values and morals that they do. They focus on developing long-lasting relationships with others built on trust and mutual respect. After all, for the authentic person, it’s not about how many friends they have on social media, it’s about being with great people who will build them up and make them a better person.
- They Are Not Driven by Ego. Authentic people are secure, sincere, and have a strong sense of self. This allows them to lead from their heart and not seek validation from others. Authentic people do not make decisions based on their egos and do not need admiration from others in order to feel good about themselves. Likewise, they don’t seek the limelight or try to take credit for other people’s accomplishments. Authentic people have healthy egos, which allows them to be secure and confident. However, they also have realistic perceptions of reality and do not exhibit blind confidence in the face of challenging evidence.
- They Have Strong Character. Authentic people say what they mean, do not make promises that they cannot keep, and always maintain a sense of integrity in their interactions with others. Authentic people live by their values, are consistent, and do not need other’s approval to feel good about themselves. They stick to their principles and are not easily swayed by superficialities.
- They Live in the Moment and Create Their Own Paths. Finally, authentic people demonstrate gratitude and are able to live in the present moment in a thoughtful, mindful way. They do not allow the past to get in the way of their future. Authentic people tend to have fewer worries about their ability to get what they want from life. They stick to what they believe and are not swayed by undue criticism of others. Authentic people follow their own internal compasses, using their principles and values as a guiding force.