People are fairly complex creatures. I’m not talking physiologically, I’m speaking more from a psychological and interpersonal perspective. I often find myself listening to people, even some that I know really well and thinking, “Do I even know this person?”
When I was at university, I took a class on psychology and for some I reason I started participating in the paid experiments that they ran on undergraduates. I didn’t really mind the extra few bucks here and there, but I found the whole thing really quite interesting. I enjoyed being a subject and trying to work out what hypothesis the researcher had or what they were hoping to find.
One day I got called in to see the head of the Experimental Psychology graduate faculty at the university for a meeting. I had no idea what it was about and as I was just a lowly undergrad, it seemed rather odd.
I arrived and knocked at the door and was greeted warmly by this pleasant lady with a broad smile who was in her late 40’s or early 50’s. She brought me in closed the door, asked me to sit and offered me a drink. I found it all rather odd and considering her position she obviously could read that from me.
“Let me explain why I asked to see you. You’ve participated in a dozen paid research experiments this year and I sat in and watched the last three. I’ve come away thinking that you were trying to beat the test.”
I didn’t really know how to respond. While I wasn’t consciously trying to feed them a specific result, I was trying to figure out what they were looking for.
She must have noticed that I was bemused and she carried on, “I’m not reprimanding you or anything like that, it was just an interesting observation. Of course, we won’t be allowing you to participate in any more studies or experiments, but I thought I’d let you know why personally.”
I thanked her and apologized, but then something curious fell out of my mouth, I told her that I found it challenging to try and figure out what they were looking to find.
She told me that she felt that I was trying to read the people interviewing me and then respond appropriately to elicit the right response. However, she wasn’t interested in that at all specifically, she wanted to understand how I was doing it.
Overall, we talked for nearly an hour and I’m not sure if she was trying to work me out or if she was genuinely curious by something I’d said or done. At the end, she said to me, “You’re very good at reading people and switching to the right personality to suit a situation – you’ve actually done it with me over the last hour.”
We met a few more times over the course of that year and I won’t go into the detail, but she gave me a number of insights into my “20-year-old” self that I still think are very true.
One of those insights was that I like to be the person that other people need me to be. She said that I’m perceptive, I read what the person or group of people around me need and I shift my behaviour to suit that need. Even down to making changes in my fundamental personality to fit in better. She said I was a something of a social chameleon.
That stuck with me and I was reminded of it today when a customer sent me an email about an issue they were having in their business. This person made a comment about me (it was positive) and I thought, “Why would they say that? I’m not really like that at all.”
But then it struck me that the context that this person knows me under, I may very well be playing that kind of role for them. In our conversations, I may have taken on this certain demeanour to help progress the conversation, build trust and to get them a positive outcome in their business.
It got me to thinking about the whole idea of building an audience by being your true authentic self. On the surface, that’s something I really agree with, but when I think about it, do many people that I know really well act the way that I know them in public, especially if they have an audience they are trying to communicate with.
And the answer was “no”.
Pretty much everyone that I know really well and have known for a long time that has an audience tends to present differently than what I know them as. There’s the “private” version that I know personally and the “public” them that they show everyone else.
Now some of that is a bit of showbiz, they are taking parts of their personality and cranking it up to 11, but the reality is, most of us self-edit and present a public facade subconsciously to our audience. I think it’s actually kind of healthy.
The problem comes when someone creates a character and presents that as the “real” them to their audience. That’s not only deceptive but from my experience, it tends to end up being bad for business.
This kind of behaviour is the same as telling lies. When you tell lies they tend to compound – you tell lies to build upon and cover up other lies. And the compounding effect applies to lies as well, they become much bigger and harder to control when you stack them on top of each other.
What I’ve learned over the last year with Casual Marketer, in particular, is that I need to focus my content creation as an exercise that I do for myself. If I think about writing these blog posts and other things as a way of getting my ideas down and crystallizing my thoughts then it will be more real – it will have less self-editing and obfuscation.
Maybe that’s not important to you, maybe you’re happy playing a well-crafted character for your audience – I can totally respect that.
I’m curious to hear what you think – feel free to reply to this post and share your thoughts and experiences with me. Do you feel like you are presenting the “real” authentic version of yourself to your audience? Have you developed a character or facade that you use publicly?