Don’t leave your personality at the front door

Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 947 words

How much of yourself do you bring to the office?

Is it (really) you who pitches up every day?

The critical question:

“Are you a true person of yourself?”

The reason I posit this is because, apart from the uniform, professional practice doesn’t embrace difference. I don’t mean diversity, although that it is important. I mean the weird, contrary or different. Even if that seems too far out, the business at hand, and the culture of the firm seems to elide any trace of personality.

This could be in the way people speak – telephone voices being the usual sign – but, more likely, what you find is almost a Jekyll and Hyde scenario.

I was once part of the selection process for a top 50 law firm, and I would lament every year how the short-lists became more and more homogeneous. And of course that manifested in the candidature: they all looked, walked and talked the same. The most extreme thing they had going for them was a spin around the Far East on their ‘Gaap’ Year.

I came from a background in search and selection and was quite used to interviewing the BS brigade – you could smell it a mile off – but I wouldn’t have minded a bit of that. Just something that made me think about them. Even the dress sense was boring. The less stand out the better.

Now I know this all sounds hugely uncharitable, and a bit hypocritical coming from someone who had a penchant for three-piece suits, but, in my case, at least I felt I was trying to be myself, even if, sometimes, I had to a wear a cheap grin for the sake of looking like I was really enjoying what I was doing.

My point is this: why do you leave your true personality at the front door? It’s almost like you wave it goodbye when you step outside the house/flat, only to be reunited at day’s end, where you go merrily skipping down the road like excited children.

But is this helping you or the firm that you work for?

Clients want to deal with real people: People who have strong empathy, Emotional Intelligence and are down to earth.

Every lawyer that I worked with was a different person out of work. Most were fun, had a irreverent take on the world and didn’t take themselves too seriously. But put them in the uniform of choice, and they became invisible. If they weren’t trying to suck up to their principal, then they were scared to death that they would upset someone.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that everyone has to be so off the wall that they p*** everyone off. Rather, they need to stop parking their personality outside and bring it to work and express it.

This is not an either/or.

You can’t be one thing one week, and something different the next.

You are who you are.

Of course, if you are persuaded that you need to change, don’t suddenly bring to bear this new persona. People may think you have gone mad. Instead, try to be more open and share more of who you are.

And this also cuts it with your opposite number. The number of times I would get some testy, point-scoring email from the other side, only to meet them in person and think “Is this the same person?” I am not suggesting that you let your guard down or try to be best mates, but don’t express yourself differently in words to the person in real life. If anything, it leaves the other side with the impression that you are not in control of the case but your client is pulling your chain.

This issue also raises another issue that seems to go hand in hand with the fake you. People are generally remote, uncaring, rude and generally not thoughtful enough. Whether this is in the simple “Hello” first thing or listening attentively, it seems to go hand in hand with the change that goes on when someone comes to work. But it is all completely unnecessary.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say that this issue ranks in importance at … -10, meaning it doesn’t. The only time I have seen the issue is addressed is come appraisal time where mostly people tip toe around the “you are a jerk” point with some euphemism like “You need to work on your people skills”.

Next time you go to the office ask yourself how much of your true self comes to work? All of it?

This, for me, is a critical topic. The reason: most if not all of the problems in professional practice come down to communication. Either by commission or omission, you set up a barrier which makes it hard – and increasingly so – to have a proper, constructive conversation. There just isn’t the level of trust that there should be. If you don’t believe me try this on for size: how many people in your firm do you talk about behind their back but never actually raise the issue to their face? We all seem to know what the ‘issue’ is but never properly address it. I can think of more than one partner who was a prickly, difficult so-and-so but no one would take that person on. They would forever dance around the issue.

Next time you step across the threshold, I challenge you to be just a bit more like yourself and less like the clone that everyone expects. It may just make you happier and the people around you a little more relaxed in your company.

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