I have encountered this issue of authenticity recently in a handful of situations and it has captured my attention. Here’s why – Gen Y is all about authenticity. As a Gen Xer, I would argue that it is high on our list also. Yet, some Baby Boomers have a different approach to authenticity and it stems from one key approach – they believe they have to have the answer to every question.
Now I’m not talking about aerospace-grade questions, but questions regarding their field of expertise. Recently I witnessed 3 different situations where different Baby Boomer-aged experts encountered a difficult question. The question was clearly beyond what they knew yet all of them attempted to answer it as an expert. Unfortunately for them, the people asking the questions did not seem to believe the Baby Boomer answers. I didn’t believe them either.
The after effect of the interactions was simple – I no longer trusted their expertise. The irony of it is in the fact that some of the questions were not even in their area of expertise. The Baby Boomers did not have to provide an answer as they could have easily deferred the question. Instead in each situation they attempted to spout some rather odd sounding answer that came across as just that…odd.
One of the most powerful communication tools is to simply state, “I don’t know.” If that is too direct you can use, “I’m not sure.” In a strange way, I find it edifying of the person’s expertise – they answer questions that they know and they legitimately answer with an I don’t know if it is outside of their knowledge base.
It is disarming, real and authentic.