Tell me if you’ve been here: You’re at an offsite work event with a lot of new people. You find yourself changing the way you talk and act to adapt to all the new personalities. It’s work but feels more like a giant networking event. You’re bringing a lot to the table, but it feels like you’re auditioning instead of establishing rapport.
Working in diverse work environments causes plenty of challenges, but one comes to the top: how do you maintain your voice when the advice out there tells you to bend to the listener. You see it in two different sets of business disciplines:
Marketing tells us to modify our message to fit our audience so it’s more authentic
Professional Development suggests we adjust our approach based on the people in the room, the medium, and the goals of the request
The advice is based on a premise that talking to someone in a manner that best helps them understand can get you closer to a successful outcome. In contrast, when your style or approach is off-putting, the request can fail before it’s even been made. This is why we have personality assessments, training sessions, self-help guides, and coaching. They’re all saying that adjusting your approach can help a team adapt and work more efficiently.
In oversimplified terms: Become a chameleon to get what you want.
In theory, that should work and be very straightforward. We’re all self-centered, and one acronym often used in sales theory is “WIIFM”, also known as the “what’s in it for me.”
But we’ve all been there knowing that someone is just telling us what we want to hear – which might not be the best information or advice we need. This happens with job applicants - resumes tailored to the description might make it through the applicant tracking system, but upon meeting the candidate, it’s obvious they don’t actually have the expertise you need. On the receiving end, you might be feeling placated or even played. But what is more damaging is the perception of the deliverer. In the most extreme scenarios, you’re not saying anything new in the meeting, you’re flip-flopping on a position, or you’re perceived as unreliable. Those are not attributes you want for yourself as an employee, and certainly not as a job candidate.
If the advice is all about changing your style, how do you adjust your approach but still retain your position?
First – this conundrum isn’t unique to you, it’s happened several times. And if you’re a woman, you’ve likely been told this advice to the extreme, completely losing your sense of self just to do your job. Spend time thinking about who you are. The best way to do this is to work on your elevator pitch. You likely haven’t done one since your last job interview, but it’s always valuable to revisit. What do you bring to the table? Why should people trust your judgement and expertise? What vision are you painting?
Next – think back to the scenarios in which you’ve been given this advice. There are a few scenarios that tell you how you should interpret this guidance:
Someone of authority spoke to you: If they’re looking out for you, it’s likely you didn’t convey information effectively or you even rubbed someone the wrong way. This suggestion is to help you hit a home run the next time around. If it’s “putting you in your place,” be aware that this person could be feeling threatened (by you or something else).
You sought out help after a professional review or bad experience: This is good, you’re self-aware there’s something you can do. But don’t forget about the other people in the room or on the team, learning how they might have perceived you, as well.
You’ve always been told to think beyond yourself: Especially in customer service, this is a marching order. But learn if this is so you’re a selfless drone answering questions, or if it’s to use emotional intelligence to help a customer better.
After you’ve assessed when you got this advice, break down the ways you think adapting could help. The changes could be varied, small or large:
Adding a greeting to your emails
Use less lists
Ask more questions before making suggestions
Stop CCing everyone
Like any scientific test, select one way you’re going to adapt for the receiving party or scenario, then try it out. A specific change for a specific reason will tell you if the adaptation will help you gain more success, as opposed to sweeping adjustments which can be draining and confusing.
Finally, review your results. Did the change have a positive impact? Try it again and see if you get the same results. Make sure you try out the adjustment a few times because it takes a while for people to change. Especially if there are emotional issues involved, it could be a while before someone responds to your change.
By being methodical, you can still stick to your position or your style, with only making minor adjustments for the recipient. This is the same as "oiling" a gear, connecting to a faster signal, or putting food on a white plate instead of a red one.
You’re still you – you’re just tweaking the delivery.
Emily Jasper a content-strategist-turned-tech-advocate and blogger who works in the manufacturing industry. She has more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, as well as a background in career development. You’ll likely find her geeking out about the latest comic movie or Netflix show, enjoying a beer or wine with her book club, or planning workshops for RVA Content Strategy. Her coworkers know she has the mind of a project manager but can also get creative on the fly. Her favorite type of project is building giant content strategies and back-end configurations for a website and its digital channels. She also has two dogs that keep her very busy at home.