We’re all shaped by our life experiences. We learn how to navigate the world, develop and maintain relationships, and even communicate from behavior modeled by our parents and caregivers, other authority figures, and from our own experimentation. As we grow older, we tend to show up in the world in a way that is most familiar and comfortable to us.
This comfort zone isn’t just comfortable — it’s also brought us some level of success, whether it be in school, at work, or in other areas like sports or hobbies. But the rub of it is that what’s familiar or natural may not actually serve us in every situation. To keep growing or succeeding, we might need to act in ways that feel sticky or awkward. At times this may mean doing uncomfortable things in service of others, which in turn will enable our own success.
This ‘comfortable zone’ is what we call our authentic range. The practice of stretching ourselves and practicing initially uncomfortable behaviors until they become more comfortable is expanding that authentic range.
Authoritative and Approachable
There’s one other set of terms we need to familiarize ourselves with: authoritative and approachable behaviors. Behavior exists across a spectrum, with these two terms existing on either end. People who we think of as more authoritative exhibit behaviors like Silence, Stillness, and taking up Space. Meanwhile those who are more comfortable on the approachable end may move and talk quickly (Fast), Fidget, or Forfeit space, giving way to others.
*WARNING: these behaviors change how people react to you. Practice first, don’t try applying them for the first time in important or potentially dangerous situations. (For example, presenting at a board meeting, asking for a raise, or alone at night on public transport are not times to try out several new authoritative behaviors.)
Both authoritative and approachable behaviors are useful and advantageous in different situations. Each allows you to succeed in different tasks. As with anything though, adding more behaviors to your repertoire allows you to express yourself more fully. If you think of these behaviors as knives in a kitchen, brushes in an art studio, or golf clubs in a bag, there are some things you simply can’t do without a different knife, brush, or club. By stretching the tools available to you and the comfort you feel using them, you can increase your opportunities for success.
Your Authentic Range
To understand your own existing range, including your default and boundaries, think about a challenging situation and how you might tackle it. If you’re in a negotiation or asking for a raise, how would you approach it? Is there a different or better way to approach the same situation that might yield better results?
If you’re an “approachable” person, you might find taking a hard nosed approach uncomfortable, but you might realize that what you’ve done in the past hasn’t served you. Being too approachable or deferential has prevented you from commanding the conversation or being taken seriously. If you’re more of the “authoritative” type, you might be more comfortable having or being in control. This could make it difficult to connect with people and develop and sustain relationships that are beneficial to you. In some instances each of these people might need to take a different approach — the situation could require it. Without a change or a willingness to step into discomfort, you limit yourself and your potential.
These behaviors are something you do, not something you have. The good news is that while it may feel unchangeable, the behaviors are learned and therefore learnable — there are not people who have “it” and people who don’t. Practice makes perfect when it comes to making uncomfortable behaviors comfortable. By expanding your authentic range, those behaviors become just another tool, brush, or knife that you can draw upon.
Having the widest authentic range allows you to deftly and fluidly move across this spectrum and increase your chances for success — regardless of what’s thrown your way.
Try It For Yourself
Changing your behavior will change how people see and react to you. This also means it will change your relationships, so practice these behavior changes in safe environments until they are comfortable for you.
Try them out in low-stakes situations, like ordering coffee at a cafe, a casual conversation at a party, or with friends and family. Make small adjustments and see what people’s reactions are. If you go overboard ordering a coffee, try a different cafe for a few weeks and they’ll forget about it fairly soon.
Pick one behavior that currently feels like a stretch for you and try it out in a few settings and see how it goes. Each time you try, ask yourself:
- How did it feel when you tried it? Did that change as you practiced more?
- What reaction did you get from others? And, is that different than you expected or are used to?
- What other behaviors changed for you as a result of changing that one?