I've found the skill of congruence to be controversial. Congruence is the harmony or alignment of one's internal states and external expression. It allows for you to be more authentic and build trust faster. It's something most people say they value, however is not consistently applied. Let's dig into why congruence is so difficult.
I was torn whether to include this skill in my list. Instead of omitting it completely, I decided to unpack it and invite you to join me to reflect on it.
It's hard to miss the authentic leadership trend where you're told to bring your whole self to work. While I delight in the aspiration of a place with deep belonging, there are quite a few problems with the idea of telling leaders they should match their words, tone, facial expressions, emotions and body language as often as possible.
Congruence isn't supported. The dominant culture we live in, severely limits what is considered acceptable self-expression. Each of the social roles we embody includes spoken or assumed guidelines for what appropriate expression looks like, and workplace professionalism is dictated by White dominant culture. Asking someone to consistently reveal their internal states as true as possible is currently dangerous for many people.
Covering is prolific in organizations. Covering is a type of identity management where someone conceals or disassociates from one or more of their identities. One can disguise their appearance, change their words/tone/behaviors, hide affiliations, avoid members of the same identity group, or refuse to stand up for others. Many people have been systemically punished for being themselves, not just historically but daily as microaggressions and biases run rampant.
What are some examples of how you cover, or are incongruent?
I few examples of incongruencies I've challenged within myself are:
A reframe to consider...
If you observe incongruencies within yourself, just pause and notice what's going on. It is a choice point for you to shift your behavior or to continue as you are. That choice is up to you.
If you notice a potential incongruency in another person simply consider that they could be having a complex experience of mixed thoughts and emotions. Or perhaps two or more of their cultural identities are giving them different information. What a marvelous opportunity to get to know someone better. This is a perfect time to paraphrase them or ask their consent to follow up further.
Additionally, turn your curiosity onto yourself. Reflect on what part of you might be creating a lack of psychological safety for a part of that person. It may be something you've done intentionally, or without any awareness. It could be something related to your personal behaviors, or could be that a group identity you hold has inflicted trauma on a group identity they hold.
At the core of congruence is a deep desire to be who we are, to find intimacy and trust in our relationships, and to express ourselves without fear of harm. In other words, to belong. Rather than getting hung up on how authentically or aligned or self-expressed someone is being, focus on fostering belonging.
Here are some reflection questions to get you started: