The other day, just as I started an introductory meeting with a client, the doorbell rang, a delivery hit my front porch with a thump and my dog started his “there’s a delivery! there’s a delivery! there’s a delivery!” barking routine.
I quickly hit my “mute” button and tried to pretend that I was in the minimalist office space that I have cleverly created with an abstract painting centred behind me and the silk orchid on my credenza.
I was a bit embarrassed at this intrusion of real life into a business meeting. My illusion of professionalism had been shattered.
But an amazing thing happened. The client asked me “What kind of dog do you have? “ Just like that we had an instant bond. We discovered that we both had the very smart but very noisy combo of Standard Poodle and Australian Shepard. Our quick trip into the world of dogs and how they have made the COVID era bearable got us into an easy and comfortable conversation.
It made me realize that these days I consciously make sure that people see only the narrow slice of me that Zoom allows. I wondered what would happen if I let people see the wider view?
What would they think if they could see that the shelves on my book case hold some of my favourite historical fiction reads like “The Gown” or absorbing mysteries like “Push”?
What about a glimpse of my favourite picture of my my dad? He’s laughing out of the frame waggling his fingers in the air to amuse my kids.
Or if they knew that below the waist I am wearing leggings and Birkenstocks and my dog has his big shaggy head on my feet. What would they think?
Perhaps we are using the narrow focus of our cameras as a different way to “suit up” to portray our professional selves, just like we used to don a good structured jacket and crisp white shirt and red lipstick before we gave an important presentation.
Why are we so reluctant to show our true selves?
In her amazing Ted Talk called “10 Ways to have a Better Conversation” Celeste Headlee says : “People are interested in YOU. They care about what you like, and what you have in common.” Yet those are the parts of us that we hide just beyond the frame of our cameras.
I believe that if we give people a wider view and a better glimpse of our real lives we can build stronger bonds more easily and naturally. I think that this is more important than ever before as we all seek out more natural ways of connecting in an unnatural time.
No one has ever asked me about my staged office. not about the painting and not about my silk orchid. But that chat about my dog helped me gain a new client and made me realize that it’s ok to be real.
What can you do to widen the view that others have of you?
This question becomes even more important as we start to think about returning to office life. What will we bring with us from this period of working remotely?