In the tradition of authentic-relating, a distinction is made between two broad categories of inauthenticity: posturing and collapsing.
Collapsing is to implode under the experience of pressure, it’s to succumb, give in, cave. It’s inauthentic because no one is actually inferior to others and so to act that way is disingenuous. Unsurprisingly, as a pervasive style, it’s infrequently seen in either leadership or entrepreneurial circles (but in nonprofits, one might just come across it more often…).
We’re going to focus on posturing because this certainly is a major problem in organizations of every stripe.
How To Expand
Posturing is a continuum of interpersonal strategy that at one end is outright bullshitting, while the other pole is best described as the (often unconscious) assuming of a ‘stance.’ That last one is admittedly pretty subtle, so we’ll approach from the other extreme.
While all forms of posturing are fraudulent, some are more blatant than others.
When we puff ourselves up in order to appear confident, successful, in command, or composed, then we are posturing as those things rather than actually being ourselves.
And others can feel us doing it even if they are not sure what exactly we are doing.
We feel it when we are being sold to but no sale has yet been mentioned. We are often in the presence of posturing when the person we’re with is overly polished or when they have that Teflon-like constitution that seemingly deflects all critique (and accountability, and collaboration, and the genuine support of others, and win/win solutions, and, and…).
I’ve ranted elsewhere about professionalism as a hotbed of posturing because there we have decided to assume the stance of a ‘professional’ over what we actually may be feeling and experiencing.
These are now the more subtle forms of posturing; ways of being inauthentic that we may not even notice we are doing.
For instance, have you ever heard your partner on the phone to someone and noticed he/she sounding somehow insincere in a way that is more their tone than anything else and that few others would be able to identify? You can tell they are placating, playing naive, or assuming some veneer, and yet they may even deny it after getting off of the call. We don’t always know we’re doing it.
Since the seminal text “How To Make Friends And Influence People” made it’s appearance onto the US scene, in particular, sincerity has taken a backseat to influencing. Indeed, I see the rise in use of the expression f–k you money as a reflection of the common belief that only the wealthy can afford to tell the truth or be themselves in public.
In short, in the world of commerce, we may have come to the conclusion that we cannot risk being ourselves for fear of appearing somehow repellant to others. In this sense posturing is the decision to never appear as if collapsing, a.k.a. weak.
Of course, outside of these commercial circles, we have a name for the strategy that trades authenticity for the approval of others: poor self-esteem.
Yup, both collapse and posturing are forms and degrees of negative self-image in that we are behaving as if we, as we are, are not enough; so we assume the stance of someone else, someone we are not.
It has been said that “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” And damn funny it is! Why? Because it’s both correct and ridiculous.
It’s correct in the realm of momentary interactions with others, in that convincingly faking sincerity could momentarily develop enough trust to leverage, for instance, a sale. Think car sales under a quoter system.
It’s ridiculous in the realm of actual relationships with others because most things are valuable because of their truthfulness – trust, friendship, honesty, reliability, sincerity, etc. – indeed, to accuse someone of being fake, or a facade is considered an insult.
And yet as nonsensical as it is to talk of faking sincerity in order to get something done, we are all willing to fake all sorts of things that it’s actually obscene to think of as not genuine.
I’m not even talking about ‘fake it till you make it’, because that at least is a short-term strategy aimed at eventually ‘making it’ where you no longer need to ‘fake it.’
Yet most of our posturing is permanent.
Case in point, except for those executives who stay in the domain of work they first developed their chops in, most leaders have onboard some degree of imposter-syndrome. It’s not their fault: they faked-it, made-it, then moved on to the next fake out – it can make for a chronic stance of fake-it!
Other forms of lasting posturing are the kinds of bravado and cockiness that masquerade as confidence while lacking the humility of mature leadership. That can, of course, take a person a long way depending on the context but is begging for a correction that will be along shortly.
But what’s the alternative in business settings that abhor apparent weakness and can’t see invulnerability as the insecurity that it is?
It’s Not A Middle Road
Back in the day, we used to talk of aggression vs passivity and posit the alternative to those extremes as ‘assertiveness.’ That worked – remember assertiveness training?
Nowadays, the terminology has shifted as has the emphasis upon outward behavior. That’s Outer game and now we need to talk about Inner game. In part, we need to distill and cultivate the aspects of both extremes that are useful and throw out the rest.
It’s actually a huge topic and body of work however we can make some progress even here if we focus in on one fundamental. It’s what we’ve already been mentioning: stance.
Head And Shoulders
What collapse misses is our inherent value – collapse is a way of being that places others above or in front of us. In that sense, it may seem selfless or even virtuous in some familiar way like we’re turning the other cheek.
In practice what it misses is Dignity. Collapse is undignified and as such it’s actually unworthy of us; we really are better than that. All of us are.
So the alternative or antidote to collapse is to maintain our own sense of dignity, sometimes referred to as ‘having good head and shoulders.’
We have a spine and should use it.
What posturing is missing was mentioned earlier: Humility. Cos you ain’t all that, you really aren’t.
As a citizen of the Commonwealth, I had instructions as to how to handle an encounter with the Queen (it can be anxiety-provoking, you know). Just take a moment imagining Her Highness sitting on the crapper (you didn’t know she went’?), that’ll bring things back down to earth real fast.
It’s been said that when a roman emperor would return from a successful campaign to their version of a ticker-tape parade thrown by the appreciative citizenry, standing alongside His Greatness was a slave with one job: to utter into the ear of the Emperor, “You are not a god.”
In practice what posturing separates us from is permeability – the capacity to be impacted, moved, influenced. Posturing as someone we aren’t will always bring with it a level of rigidity; we become fundamentally less agile. In short, posturing makes us stiff, inflexible.
The alternative to both posturing and collapse is less a stance and more a mindset.
We can take our seats in our lives like we belong here. Because we do.
We can simply be upright with a straight spine and have some class.
We can also afford to soften, to let the world in. Now that we are actually here, present and awake, we can meet our world and collaborate to move things forward – change is afoot, them and us.
Summed up: strong back, soft front, upright and available. Nuthin to prove. Now we can get to work.