Have you ever found yourself saying, "Well, I was just being honest"? This is a classic communication issue: The speaker and listener have drastically different perceptions about the meaning of a message. This effect is amplified when you think you're being authentic (or honest, or transparent, or up front). Without knowing your intention, or if you lack the interpersonal skill to frame an authentic message well, the listener may think you' re rude and no longer wish to continue any sort of relationship with you, much less a productive conversation.

In a business setting, a higher degree of professionalism might be standard. So being authentic requires a balance between being forthright and gaining the interpersonal skill that allows you to be more sensitive and diplomatic.

While we can' t cover every possible interaction here, we will share key points as you look to polish your interpersonal skill and, at the same time, become more authentic in your communications. Notice the "raw comments" versus "polished comments" for each of the examples below.

Five tips for skillful authenticity

  1. Get more information before making a statement. Making a statement rather than asking a question closes off the possibility that you' ll gain additional understanding and increases the likelihood that you'll be perceived negatively. Don' t jump to the conclusion that your way's the only way without getting the full story.

    Raw: That's never going to work.

    Polished: I don't have enough information yet to get behind this and see how it will help improve project outcomes. Can you tell me more about what you' re proposing?

  2. Check out any assumptions you might be making. If you think you've made an assumption, ask (and if you don't think you make any assumptions, you've just made a big one!). More often than not, because of our own filters, what we hear is quite different from what someone has actually said and certainly different from what they might have intended to say. Get clarity as quickly as possible to avoid tainting the interaction with a misconception made early on.

    Raw:You're trying to keep me out of the loop, and you're talking down to me.

    Polished: I'm making the assumption that you think I shouldn't be involved in this project and that you think I'm less qualified on this subject than you are. Is that correct?

    Raw: You need to do a great job on this project, or we'll all be in trouble.

    Polished: In order to fulfill expectations for success on this project, you need to improve our customer relations feedback from fair to good within six months of starting the new approach. Knowing that, is there anything else we need to add to help meet that goal?

  3. Keep everyone focused on the goal and intention. Create common ground on which to share your perspective. This helps people maintain understanding without hitting hot buttons as quickly or ferociously.

    Raw: I don't work that way, I have high standards.

    Polished: I have some concerns about doing it this way, particularly that our approach will seem rude to customers. I'd like to propose another option that leads to the same goals.

  4. Know the difference between inquiry and advocacy.Much of the time, conversations go nowhere or aren't as productive as they could be, because participants are too busy trying to convince others that their position is the correct one. Spend time inquiring into another participant's position, as well as sharing why you've arrived at your own position. Remember, your truth isn't the only truth, and you may not even be right. Keeping this in mind helps us be more humble as we enter into conversation with others.

    Raw: We can't do that. We have to do what I've suggested, or the project won't work.

    Polished: Tell me more about how your suggestion might help us reach our goal for this project, and then I'd like to share more information about my own suggestion.

  5. Set the stage. Demonstrate your authenticity by telling people that you might not have it down pat yet. This comment instantly brings your audience to the table in terms of how you're operating and what they might expect. Note: Don't use this rule as an excuse to shoot off your mouth about anything. Use it as a guide to your intentions.

    Raw: I'm going to say what I'm feeling and thinking.

    Polished: Before we get started, I want to let you know that I'm trying to be more authentic. Do all of you feel comfortable with this? (Offer to share examples of your candor.)

This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization or situation. Use it mindfully. The most effective communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so get individualized assistance from a communication expert.

Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. Coauthor Sarah Fenson is Ivy Sea's Guide to Client Services.