Whether in your own business or corporate life, professionals often find they are challenged to maintain a line between business and personal lives.
Increasingly the boundaries are blurred as we work from home. We’re often advised to be “genuine” and “authentic.” We’re often ill-advised to be “vulnerable.”
But over-disclosing can be hazardous to a career, whether you’re employed by yourself or an outside entity.
You’ll acquire a new (and probably unwanted) identity.
You become “the person who survived bankruptcy” or “the person whose brother went to prison.”
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presented a memorable TED talk many years ago. Once someone hears a critical fact about you, they will associate that one single story with you. As a college freshman in Connecticut, she found her roommate associated “Nigeria” with an outdated story about Africa. The roommate was deeply disappointed when Chimamanda’s “tribal music” playlist featured Mariah Carey.
Back when I was a college professor, I learned never to look at the notes any student was taking in my class. Inevitably something would be distorted. It’s pretty scary.
“My sister was in a convent for a while” can become “She was a nun for 5 years.” It can even become, “She’s a religious fanatic who doesn’t have a romantic life.”
You can expect your story to be viewed through the listener’s backstory.
In one company, a new CEO decided to be open about his personal life. Introducing himself, he said, “My divorce is being finalized next week. I’m set to marry my girlfriend in just three months. We’ve been together in Dallas for over three years and finally will tie the knot. I have two kids in college and one starting his freshman year.”
In the 21st century, this story seems straightforward. Many people would be bored. His organization (and most of its stakeholders) had no ties to religion.
But a few of this CEO’s colleagues were dismayed by this story. Many were married or divorced with children of their own. One said, “I cannot believe he is living with another woman before the divorce. I will never be able to respect him, no matter how much he does for this company.”
For more on understanding backstory, download my free guide, The Surprising Way To Discover What Really Motivates Your Target Market. Click here for immediate access.
You can also listen to the Strategic Storytelling podcast episode #11 on getting to know your clients, via Apple, Spotify, or the platform of your choice.
Being vulnerable is a healthy part of being in a personal relationship. It’s not always a healthy part of a business relationship. Clients and colleagues say they want to know you as a whole person. In reality, they are too easily diverted by a single story.