Building Authenticity in Relationships

authenticity in relationshipsBuilding authenticity in relationships is one of my major interests. A couple days ago I had another one of those “I’ve never told anyone this before but” conversations while chatting with someone at a church function. I think it was a life-changing moment for the individual I was talking to.

How often do you experience that kind of transparency in your life? If you want more depth and effectiveness in your coaching conversations, here are some tools for becoming the kind of person people naturally open up to.

Two Main Ways for Building Authenticity in Relationships

There are two main ways you can work at building authenticity in relationships — I call them the Trust Paradigm and the Agape Paradigm. In the trust paradigm, our fundamental belief is that we can be authentic with people that we know we can trust. Our relationships grow slowly over time: we take a little risk, we wait for the other person to respond well and risk a little openness in turn and gradually over the months or years our relationship can become deeply rich, satisfying and open.

The problem with the trust paradigm is that is basically a self-protective posture: we want authentic relationships, but we are afraid we will get hurt or rejected or have what we share blabbed all over town. So we guard our hearts by being careful what we share and with whom. When we meet someone new or start a new coaching relationship, we are guarded and so are they. Consequently, relationships take a long time to develop, and casual conversations rarely go deep. Because safety comes from being careful whom we share with, really opening our hearts to others is a risky business.

There’s a road less traveled that can take us to the depths of building authenticity much more quickly. I call it the agape (or “love”) paradigm. The authentic_relationshipsfundamental belief of this paradigm is that authenticity is a gift we can freely give because our security is taken care of by Christ, and we don’t need to protect ourselves. The idea of agape is that it is a gift that asks for nothing in return. For the sake of building authenticity in relationships, we simply make the decision to live authentic lives, to go deep quickly, to be the one who goes there first to open the door for others to be honest, too. Our focus moves from getting authenticity and protecting our hearts to giving the gift of authenticity and putting our hearts in Christ’s hands.

In practice, it means that we regularly take big relational risks and go deep quickly for the sake of building authenticity. We open up to others first, in appropriate ways, because when one person takes the risk to trust, usually the other person is quick to follow. When you live out of the agape paradigm, you become a leader in authenticity, a catalyst who helps everyone around you (this works in groups as well as one-on-one) to develop more meaningful relationships.

Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and executive director of Leadership Metaformation. For more information on Tony’s best-selling coaching books go to For Tony’s training schedule, go to