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Is Your Work Persona Inauthentic?

“Dang, Mom… you have a ‘work voice’!”

I like to think of myself as pretty authentic at work. I don’t hide my tattoos, I don’t hide my ~thoughts~ (this isn’t always a bonus, by the way…) and I think I usually bring my “full self” into my professional pursuits. So I was caught off-guard when my 21 yr old made this observation, quickly endorsed by her 19 yr old sibling.

I have teased my kids for a while now about “The Retail Laugh.” If you’ve ever worked retail, you _know_ what I’m talking about. That annoying customer says something absurd and you “laugh”, and anyone who knows you is 100% sure that you’re faking it… because you are. (If you have never worked retail, ignore this — nothing to see here — all interactions with retail staff are ALWAYS 100% real… )

So I was curious what they meant when they said I had a “work voice”. They thought about it, and then we got into a rousing conversation about how I speak slower, lower my pitch, pause in ways that feel ~weird~ to them. Apparently, I also laugh less (this may come as a surprise to those of you who KNOW me professionally… I laugh a LOT more than most people I know, even in work settings), and I “dumb down” my word choices.

Huh. I sat with this for a few days, and I guess it’s all true — but I don’t think it’s all BAD. I used to get hammered (justifiably so) for speaking too fast (which also sometimes triggered my stuttering), using “big words”, and “not being serious enough about your work.” I guess over time, I got tired of getting dinged for these things — or worse, getting left out of conversations because I wasn’t seen as an effective communicator.

I don’t think I’m any less ~me~ when I speak slower with my colleagues than I do with my kids. I mean, yes. My spouse even remarks that it sounds like we’re speaking a foreign language when we get going, and that’s fine when it’s just us… not so fine if it’s a client or a colleague who doesn’t “speak the language”.

I actually don’t think I necessarily “dumb down” my language. I’m very fond of words, being a voracious reader and prolific writer myself. I just recognized that not everybody shares my love of words, so I’m careful not to dive into the deep end, word-choice-wise, until I’m sure that the person I’m speaking with ALSO likes to swim in those depths. I don’t want them to feel like I’m patronizing them, or trying to snowball them with big words to “prove” how smart I am. I’d rather my work product take care of that! ;)

As far as laughing less… well… that’s probably true. As somebody who’s chosen “Chief Happiness Officer” as a profession, there’s already a stigma there that I’m “not serious” about my work, and while nothing could be further from the truth, there’s no benefit in furthering the stereotype. I still laugh a LOT more than most people I know, a situation I’m actively working on fixing, and NOT just by laughing less! (Corporate cultures change slowly, y’all!)

Do you notice that YOU have a “work persona”? How different are you when you interact professionally versus among your friends and family? And more importantly, how can you make sure that’s not a fundamental change in WHO you are, but more HOW you express your authentic self in ways that are more effective based on your audience?


(Originally published at Medium. Follow me there, too!)



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