In last week’s episode of the Knowledge Broker’s Podcast, hosts Byron Lazine and Tom Toole touched on what they both agree is the worst advice in the real estate industry:
Just be authentic.
Maybe you’ve heard that advice expressed a little differently:
- “Just be you.”
- “Be your authentic self.”
- “Don’t bother being ‘professional.’ Just be ‘real.’”
That last one, in particular, is more blatant in its assumption that being “professional” is less real or authentic than just behaving as you would with a friend—as if presenting anything other than your whole self is somehow less honest or less brave.
That depends, of course, on what the word “authentic” really means. And even if we can collectively agree on a clear definition, the question remains:
Does it make sense, in a professional setting, to “just be authentic”?
Everybody is a different person when they’re at breakfast with their family—than they are at a professional lunch—than they are at drinks with their college friends—than they are at the beach on the weekend. Everybody is a slightly different version/vibe of themselves. And you should put yourself in the best position to have the best vibe when you’re on the phone with people in your community.
The vibe you present when you’re creating a relationship with a client is going to be different from the vibe you present when you’re on the phone with a client you’ve done three or four deals with already. And that’ll be different from the approach you take when you’re talking on a podcast, in an interview, or on stage.
We present different aspects of our personalities depending on the situation. That’s just reality. And it has been for a hot minute. This is not cutting-edge stuff.
It’s human nature. It’s how we are. We adapt. And that, in itself, doesn’t make us any less authentic.
Professional does not mean less authentic
Your professional self is one aspect of your whole, multifaceted self. You can be your most professional self in one setting with a client or prospect. You can then, an hour later, be a more relaxed version of yourself with a friend or colleague. You can be your most playful self with your spouse/partner. And you can also be your most motherly or fatherly self with your kids.
Your professional self is no less authentic than the self that comes out when you’re with friends or family members. It’s just different. Your professional self is adapting to the needs of your client; they expect you to be the knowledge broker they need to get the best outcome from their home sale or purchase.
They don’t need you to be their buddy or their therapist. They know instinctively that, while empathy can be helpful, it’s not nearly enough to get them the results they want. A professional vibe communicates competence—not just compassion. Both are great, but guess which of those most clients would choose if they had to pick one.
I will admit to anyone who asks that, while I have a deep appreciation for logic and sound reasoning, I often operate from my heart rather than my head. Compassion is important to me.
Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a brilliant argument or ultimately concede to someone whose grasp of the situation is more comprehensive than my own.
When I need a real estate agent, I go with competence every time. And a professional demeanor communicates that more effectively than the demeanor of someone whose first priority is to “be authentic” or to help me feel understood.
Whether I feel emotionally connected to them is less important than what I hired them to do. Friendship is certainly possible. But when it’s time for business, I want to see evidence that they know how to get the job done—and not just decently well but better than most.
High standards are not the enemy. If anything they reveal more of who we are.
The knowledge broker gets personality types.
Being professional doesn’t mean you have to adopt a different personality. You’re still you—just the most professional version of the same person. Your client likewise approaches you in a way different from the way they approach a friend or family member.
You’re not there to put your personality on display; you’re there to gain understanding of your client’s personality so you can serve them as well as possible.
Because, often enough, different personalities come with different expectations.
The knowledge broker gets personality types and how you have to communicate with people. You see a bullet point email come through, you’d better be direct. That’s a driver. You see a lot of emojis, that’s an expressive person. You might need to bring the energy. You see an analytical person? Charts and graphs, data, statistics…You show up at these appointments, the client doesn’t care if you’re having a bad day, if you’ve got a case of the sniffles, if your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you, if someone said something to you or whatever it is. You know what they care about? Transacting on real estate. And the person that realizes that, you’ve got to put on…it’s not a performance, it’s a professional hat.
But what if your client is a friend?
As a real estate agent, you want your friends to know you can deliver for them, too. You want them to trust that, if they hire you to be their real estate agent, you’ll work as hard for them as you would for any paying client.
They have a right to expect that. So, have you given them a reason to? Do you dress the part and present yourself the same way you would with a client? Or do you dispense with all that “because we’re friends”?
I’ve done transactions with friends of mine… I’m still showing up wearing the same uniform I wear to every real estate transaction, which is a shirt and a tie at the first interview, with a jacket. I don’t care if it’s 105 degrees… They reached out to you to be their agent, not because you’re their friend. And when the transaction’s over, ‘Hey, I’m bringing over a six-pack. Let’s go hang out in the backyard,’ and you can turn it off. That is a skill that the best knowledge brokers have.
Byron agreed, pointing out that a lot of people won’t work with their friends because of the fear that their agent friend won’t take them as seriously or do as much for them as they would for a client—someone they have to win over or impress.
The thing is, if you can’t or won’t be your professional self with them when they need a professional, all they’ll want you to be is their friend—not their agent.
And this separates knowledge brokers from everybody else… If you can show your friends that, when it’s business time, you’re going to be ‘Business Tom,’ and it’s going to be a different approach than when we’re hanging out watching the Eagles get smoked by the Giants this fall… If you’re going to have a whole different approach to the whole relationship, then they’re more likely to work with you than not. But if you’re not able to articulate that and show that, then they’re likely to go say, “Hey, let’s keep business and friends separate.”
So, what does it mean to not be authentic?
Now that we’ve covered what it means to be authentic—and why it’s 100% compatible with being professional when the situation requires it—what does it look like when someone is not being authentic?
Think of someone whose attempt at impressing someone else involved pretending to be someone they were not. What (or whom) did they betray the most?
Typically when someone is trying to fit in with the “cool kids,” they end up betraying their real friends and their core values. And it usually blows up in their faces (in epic fashion).
It’s painful to watch, but it provides a useful lesson. There’s a world of difference between someone being the most professional version of their true self and someone who pretends to be someone other than their true self to gain acceptance.
Someone who is continually striving to grow and improve is no less authentic when they present their best self to the world. And someone who makes little effort to grow or improve is no more authentic simply because they’ve accepted themselves as they are.
Self-acceptance is important. But don’t stop there.
Is authenticity enough?
Telling someone to “just be authentic” is, unfortunately, no help at all.
Telling someone to just be themselves is like telling them to keep breathing. Nothing wrong with a brief reminder to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed. But getting the business and serving your clients well goes way beyond authenticity.
Not being fake is sort of an entry-level requirement for healthy socializing. Just like breathing air is an entry-level requirement to staying alive.
But being authentic is not enough to make you the kind of real estate agent your clients will be grateful for years from now—grateful enough to keep recommending you to people they know and like.
Your authentic self is a foundation to build on. And that goes for every aspect of your true self, including your professional one.