Your boss is a werewolf.
That person you always see in the elevator? Another one.
You’re one, too. Probably.
We are all many-faceted. Yet, the facets we show are very different at different times, depending on the context of the situations in which we find ourselves. At the office, dressed in Dockers and a button-down, we are expected to be “professional.” Here, we describe ourselves in terms of our experience and education, perhaps with a perfunctory snippet on two or three “safe” outside interests that are guaranteed not to raise any eyebrows.
This compartmentalization is not limited to the office. At a function with extended family, we are expected to be friendly and compassionate, and we describe ourselves in terms of where we sit in the patriarchy/matriarchy of our clan. With new friends, perhaps we describe ourselves based a little bit on “what we do,” perhaps a bit more on where we went to school, but we stay away from truly “personal” topics.
In any given situation, we are presented with a set of cultural expectations of how we should act and dress, what topics are acceptable for conversation, and what set of situational mores are in effect. Yet, with old friends, we are “ourselves.” The guard comes down, the drawbridges are lowered, and the connections are natural.
Inside The Werewolf, We Find A Russian Doll
This bicameral struggle becomes even more apparent when one has one or more online personae. Much has been made over the past few months about how “naked” one should get online, not in the carnal sense, but rather with respect to the personal and emotional, and how those aspects intersect with a “professional” personality.
Jory DesJardins writes “[Blogging] is fun because it has allowed me such freedom to express myself but it hasn’t been all fun and games. Authenticity is not tantamount to irresponsibility. I’ve had to practice the art of diplomacy and learn to take myself a lot less seriously. I’ve had to clean up my relationships offline and enlist their support; I’ve had to maintain a degree of professionalism and discretion; and I had to define by personal blogging policy: what was off-limits (not much, apparently), what was my focus (basically anything pertaining to ME), and whose comments I would allow (basically anyone’s, provided they weren’t spamming me).
“Every blogger has to make these decisions for herself. It ain’t easy–it’s a constant re-defining of oneself. But once you get to your most accurate definition of your blogging self, your best ‘stuff’ comes out.”
This internal bridging of the personal and professional and resolution of the social conflict between the two is a significant leap, insurmountable for some. But, as DesJardins writes, it’s a necessary step on the path to letting one’s “best stuff” emerge. Only after the internal Rubicon has been crossed can the connections begin to be extended beyond the self and into one’s external community.
Progressively Taming The Werewolf
In order to span the gaps that exist between ourselves and our colleagues, to really span it and not just play-act yet another persona, we need to be able to connect, based on shared affinities and understanding. But we can’t get there all at once.
“Progressive trust” and its counterpart “progressive disclosure” are required to build the external bridges. Both terms have their roots in systems design, and are nearly self-explanatory. “Progressive trust” refers to an increasing level of trust that can be built between parties based on prior levels of trust being successfully achieved, and “progressive disclosure” simply means to introduce (disclose) new information over time, at the point the recipient of the information is ready to accept and understand such information in context.
(Ever hear the phrase “TMI,” or “too much information?” That’s what happens when one tries to shortcut the progressive trust and progressive disclosure processes.)
Both progressive trust and progressive disclosure are the fundamental construction techniques required in order to achieve this goal of actual, non-superficial connection. They are the tools that allow us to take the internal and make it public, at a rate and in a manner that enables impedance matching with the others with whom we’re trying to connect.
Why does it matter if we act differently at the office than we do at home? What does it matter if we don’t really connect with the people with whom we’re spending a third of our lives? Well, in addition to the personal thrashing that is required to keep all these personae in check, there’s also a body of research to indicate that business interactions are actually more profitable when individuals can connect the professional side of themselves with their personal affinities. This kind of connection has measurable benefit for all parties involved.
Perhaps the cornerstone of recent work in this area was done by Lichtenthal and Tellefsen, and is called “Toward a Theory of Buyer-Seller Similarity.” Lichetenthal and Tellefsen write, “These findings suggest that internal similarity [perceptions, attitudes, and values] can increase a business buyer’s willingness to trust a salesperson and follow the salesperson’s guidance, and therefore, increase the industrial salesperson’s effectiveness. In contrast, the literature also indicates that, under most circumstances, observable similarity [physical attributes and behavior] will exert a negligible influence on a business buyer’s perceptions or a salesperson’s effectiveness. Thus, the key finding is that it is more important for buyers and sellers to ‘think alike’ than ‘look alike’.”
Tools to enable these personal bridges are appearing with increasing frequency in the media, not only via blogging, but with services such as Pandora (shared music, http://www.pandora.com), 43Things (shared goal-setting, http://www.43things.com) and host of both personal and enterprise social networking services. In fact, Howard Greenstein has written “Contact is King” (supplanting the old saw that “Content is King”), and it’s true.
With these changes, not only in technology but more importantly in the increased social acceptance of looking at individuals truly as individuals and not interchangeable cogs playing a predefined, scripted role, there will be an increasing ability to bridge the various aspects of ourselves into a cohesive whole and to connect, really connect, with our peers and colleagues, our friends and families.
And to tame the werewolves once and for all.
(note: thanks to ethan for the nudge)