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Blog Short #97: Are you the same person in all situations?

Photo by YinYang, Courtesy of iStock Photo

One of my family members asked me recently if adults ever leave high school. I laughed because I knew what she was saying. She was lamenting that people still develop cliques at work, gossip about each other, and create unspoken rules you’re supposed to live up to if you want to fit in.

We’re social beings, and the need to fit in or belong is a biological imperative. In tribal days, if you didn’t acclimate to the rules of the tribe, you might not survive. Needs for food, protection, and shelter depended on your membership, participation, and acceptance of the ways of your tribe.

In some regard, we’re not all that different today. The difference is we have a lot more independence and choice in how we participate in the tribe, and we can fend for ourselves to a large degree as long as civilization remains steady in the background.

On a social level, however, we’re still quite tribal. And we have all sorts of tribes; family, friends, work groups, religious groups, political affiliations, and other interest groups. Because of that, we’re susceptible to a desire to fit in and have a need to belong.

One of the debates in psychology is about something called “personality consistency,” which is about how you show up in your various tribes. The question is,

Are you the same person across your group memberships? And if not, how do you change and to what extent when you participate in your different group settings?

The answer, according to research, is mixed. You change in some ways and don’t in others. Let’s go through which is which and under what circumstances you can alter yourself without sacrificing who you are.

Personality versus Authentic Self

Let’s start with defining these two aspects of ourselves.


Psychology defines personality as “a characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” It’s concerned more with traits. But really, it’s more than that. It includes your psychological traits and temperament styles.

For example, if you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Test or the Enneagram, you got a description of your personality traits and tendencies.

The Myers-Briggs focuses on traits like introversion versus extroversion, thinking versus feeling, big picture versus detail orientation, and judging versus perceiving.

The Enneagram places you into personality typologies like helper, achiever, loyalist, challenger, perfectionist, peacemaker, etc.

These personality descriptions paint a picture of how you present yourself and the roles you favor that show up in your thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns. They’re part of how someone who knows you might describe you.

Authentic Self

Authenticity (or your authentic self) reflects your values and the principles you live by.

Authenticity extends beyond personality traits. It provides meaning in your life and spells out the guidelines for what you will and won’t do and the yardstick for evaluating your behavior.

So how does all this affect how you present yourself in different settings? In other words, how strictly do you present the same person in each situation?

Tribal Roles

Sometimes people worry that they present themselves differently in different settings. However, it’s natural to do that. Think of it this way:

There’s you at home, at work, with your best friends, in new situations, at the gym, and so on.

You have different roles in your life, and how you present yourself in each one alters according to the expectations of the part you’re playing. It makes sense.

You may present your professional self at work and focus more on your competencies and problem-solving skills in fulfilling your job requirements. Your basic personality is intact, but you may not reveal personal parts of yourself that aren’t relevant to your job role.

You reveal the more vulnerable parts of yourself at home to your partner and family.

At a conference where you’re meeting new people, you again will present parts of yourself, but likely a more narrowed presentation because you’re with people you’re meeting for the first time.

The general rule is that you reveal more when the level of trust is higher and the nature of the relationship is deeper. That’s natural and wise.

To summarize, the three elements that will, in most cases, determine how you present yourself in various situations are:

  1. Depth and nature of your relationships in the particular setting
  2. Requirements of the role you’re fulfilling
  3. Your personality traits (e.g., an introvert will be quieter in a new environment than an extrovert).

This means that it’s normal and necessary to present different aspects of your personality in various settings.

However, a consistent sense of self should run through all those presentations. Here’s where authenticity comes in.

Your Authentic Self

Authenticity comes from the inside, and when it’s clear, it’s expressed easily and automatically when interacting with others.

Here are the two main characteristics of the authentic self.

1. You have a consistent set of values that filter through your thinking, emotions, and behavioral choices.

For example, if one of your values is to be kind, you’ll refrain from gossiping at the office because you’ll see it as unkind and rubbing up against your principles.

Although you might wish to fit in with your colleagues, your values will sometimes put you at odds with behavior you disapprove of, and you’ll stand outside the group in those instances.

2. Your values appear in every setting, regardless of your role.

People will come to know you and see you as having reliable principles and behavior they can count on, regardless of the setting. Your values will guide you at work, at home, with your friends, and in public. If three people were to describe you, they would essentially agree on who you are and what you stand for.

Authenticity promotes trust and positive connections.

Research studies have shown that authenticity, not personality, is the factor that creates trust between co-workers and positively impacts job performance. Conversely, inauthentic people aren’t seen as trustworthy, and work performance suffers accordingly. This is especially true when the leader is inauthentic.

So you could have a very gregarious, likable boss. But if he shifted his values depending on who he was dealing with or said one thing to his employees and another to his higher-ups, you wouldn’t trust him, no matter how appealing his personality was.

Authenticity trumps personality, especially the longer you know someone or have dealings with them.

Changes Over Time

The other issue with personality consistency is that it’s a bit of a myth. You change over time as you go through developmental phases and growth. Maturity results in letting go of some personality characteristics and adding in others. Your personality traits will still be basically the same, but the presentation may change.

For example, introverts may become more comfortable in new settings as they age and become more extroverted. Thinkers may acquire a greater appreciation for emotional expression, and an individualist may come to appreciate interdependence.

More importantly, authenticity sharpens over time and deepens as your values benefit from experience and wisdom.

What’s important is to be faithful to who you are right now and consistently maintain your values. Conformity is valuable in dealing with the expectations of your tribe, but not at the expense of your deeply held values. Sometimes fitting in is the wrong choice. Stay true to your authentic self.

That’s all for today.

Have a great weekend!

All my best,



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McLeod, S. (updated 2016). What is conformity? Simply Psychology.

Middleton, C., Fireman, G., & DiBello, R. (1993). Consistency and Chaos in Personality. In: Stam, H.J., Mos, L.P., Thorngate, W., & Kaplan, B. (eds). Recent Trends in Theoretical Psychology, 275-281. Recent Research in Psychology. Springer, New York, NY.

Sutton, A. (2018, May). Distinguishing between authenticity and personality consistency in predicting well-being: A mixed method approach. European Review of Applied Psychology 68(3), 117-130.

Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M. & Joseph, S. (2008, July). The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the authenticity scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology 55(3), 385-399.

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