Getting Productive By “Getting Real”

getting real

In this post, I’ll talk about how dropping our efforts to please others with the way we look and act can actually help us get more done and find more joy in our work.

As you know, most of us work in environments where other people are around — whether we’re in an office, on our laptops in a café, or somewhere else.

When others are around, many of us start getting concerned about what those people think of us. To manage this anxiety, we start talking and behaving in ways we think will make the “right impression.”

For example, maybe you think you’re expected to look tough, so you act more aggressively in the office than you would around friends. Maybe you’re trying to look diligent, so you stay late whenever you know your boss will be around after hours. Maybe you think you should look happy, so you force yourself to smile. The examples, as you know, go on and on.

Even if we work from home, we can still do this. We don’t just put on our special “work persona” in face-to-face interactions. Probably, if we respond to e-mails or make phone calls during the day, we’re still making an effort to create the “right” kind of image.

The “Work Persona” Takes Work

Creating this “work persona” takes effort. When we’re trying to anticipate how others want us to behave, and do what we think they want, it’s hard to enjoy our tasks, and we don’t have access to what’s often called a “flow” state of complete attention.

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it in Flow, “an obstacle to experiencing flow is excessive self-consciousness.” “A person who is constantly worried about how others will perceive her,” he writes, is “condemned to permanent exclusion from enjoyment.”

In my experience, when we become willing to drop our façade, we free up so much energy we can use to move forward in and enjoy our work. I’ve seen this happen in subtle but powerful ways.

Dropping The Disguise Frees Up Energy

I once worked with a man who was in the habit of constantly smiling, because he thought it would put his coworkers and clients at ease. When he experimented with going to work without his forced smile on, he felt deeply relieved, and working with people started to become more comfortable and less tiring for him.

What’s more, dropping his constant smile didn’t destroy his relationships with others. In fact, the opposite happened — people seemed more interested in connecting with him when he became willing to let them see what he was actually feeling.

If you can see the potential in what I’m saying, I invite you to try this exercise. Take an inventory of all the ways you try to mold yourself into someone the people in your work environment will like. Notice how you change the way you walk, your tone of voice, what you talk about in casual conversation, and so on.

Now, I invite you to gradually let go of these — perhaps just one per day. It may be uncomfortable at first, but I think you’ll find that dropping your “work persona” actually makes working easier, and helps you make the kind of progress you want in what you do.

Photo by Astragony

30 thoughts on “Getting Productive By “Getting Real””

  1. There is much truth to what you said about keeping up persona’s takes energy. We tend to have two major behavior types in ourselves; our natural and our adapted behavior. Our natural behavior is what we do when we let our guard down, are completely relaxed, and did things the way we truly would prefer to do them. Yet, work and social circumstances don’t always allow for that so we adapt our style to fit those work or social requirements.

    I think it’s wise what you share here, and we do a lot of work in this area as well. If reader’s want to learn more about being themselves and comparing it to their adapted styles I have a great blog here.

    1. Hi Bryce, that’s an interesting way to put it — I think becoming able to consciously choose when and how we’re going to adapt to our situation, as opposed to unconsciously adapting out of fears from long ago, is what I really want for people.

  2. I had an experience with someone at work who would constantly smile at others too. I’m not sure if it was to put everyone else at ease or not, but she did it. One day I went into her office and I could just tell that her face was drained of energy from all the forced smiling she did. After that, she didn’t smile as much. She was much more real and relaxed.

    I think getting rid of all those behaviors that go into a work persona is good for another reason. You come off as more real. For example, when I saw my coworker who always smiled, I could tell she wasn’t being genuine and all that smiling was forced. I didn’t really want to be around someone who wasn’t being honest with me.

    1. Hi Steve — I imagine that took courage to tell your friend that her habit of forcing a smile felt draining to be around. I think the story you’re telling here is definitely an example of how we humans are much more empathic and intuitive than we tend to give each other credit for being.

  3. A breath of fresh air!

    People gravitate towards those who are genuinely themselves. Be yourself. Don’t be something that you are not – if you fake it you create distance with those around you.

    I loved this post!

    1. Hi Juanita — thanks, I’m glad you found this refreshing. It’s funny, isn’t it, how noticing all the ways that we’re trying to make up for some perceived problem with ourselves is one of the most difficult things to do.

  4. This I really do agree with. We as humans have the subconscious ability to detect when others are not being authentic. I work to support vulnerable people and fully experience the effects of “in-authenticity” on a daily basis.
    Workplaces are typical for the forced behaviour.
    Putting on a front gets so ingrained in us that we forget who we really are at times. There becomes a lack of awareness in ourselves. I know this because I experience it in myself as well as others.
    I believe in promoting the freedom to be who we really are. It’s a journey of self discovery that is challenging and interesting.

    1. Hi Marty, I think that’s totally true, that people are much more empathic and intuitive than we give them credit for, even if it’s just a vague sense that something’s not right. And like you say, discovering all the ways that we’re molding ourselves to try to meet someone’s expectations can be a long but rewarding journey.

  5. Thanks for that article! Recently I think I have been moving in the opposite direction, trying to create a persona for myself. While I think some professional face is needed it is also right that behaving unnaturally doesn’t help flow and concentration.

    Having read this article I guess I understand the bit about the flow a bit better, and I guess I will need to do some more thinking to figure out how to apply it in my own life.

    1. Hi Life Exceptional, I think it’s all about having the ability to choose whether we’re going to put on our “professional face” by deliberately smiling, talking louder than usual, etc., or drop those strategies. I get the sense that a lot of us don’t think we have any choice but to put on our “work persona” when we’re in a working environment, and this perceived lack of choice feels oppressive and creates resentment.

    1. Hi Ryan — isn’t it interesting how, even if we’re working from home, that same desire to create the “right” image for the world can still deeply affect the way we communicate and the work we produce?

    2. I also used to do work from home Ryan, and indeed it is true how we can become obsessed of putting up the right professional image even if we’re working right from our own place. I guess it is really a natural human instinct for us to create a good “professional face”. It is something that sometimes goes beyond our control. What do you think Chris?

  6. Great points about being authentic and real instead of keeping up with a contrived work persona. Most certainly, I would like to challenge myself further and see how I can let go more and more of my personality self. It will be great to experience greater freedom. Excellent article! Shared on facebook and twittered!

    1. Hi Evelyn — I’m glad you liked the article. I know I’m definitely on that path as well, of seeing how many of my usual strategies for dealing with people, whether in a work context or somewhere else, I can let go of, and how much more relaxed and joyful I can become around people as a result.

  7. Chris,

    I really liked what you said in this post. I don’t think this will be easy for me, but it is important to do. I experience this not just in work situations, but in social situations…maybe even more so, for me, in the social setting.

    I have been working at being more ME than what I think a person would want in a social situation. When I do this well, I realize that I’m paying much attention to OTHER person and a lot less to how I’m coming across. People have responded better and opened up more than when I’m trying to figure how to make them like me or how to fit in.

    Well said and thank you:~)

    1. Hi Sara — yeah, I can definitely relate to experiencing this as well in social situations — I get the sense that whatever way of thinking or feeling produces that desire to create a persona is basically there in the background in every situation, although it’s more noticeable in some than in others. I also have found that putting my attention on being with the other person makes the interaction more enjoyable, and trusting that I’m fully qualified to be with someone without making all kinds of adjustments. :)

  8. As soon as I stopped acting “as if I should” and acted in a way that was true to me, I enjoyed more fulfilling connections personally and professionally. You attract more people who are better suited to you as well as doing the work you are better suited to do. And that in itself allows you to get more done. I’m with you 100%.

    1. Hi Stacey — yeah, it does sound liberating to me to let go of the idea that we “should” behave a certain way — and I like what you said about getting more done when we let go of that way of thinking. When we aren’t putting so much effort into getting our work (or ourselves) into a particular cookie-cutter mold, I think, we have so much more energy to actually accomplish what we want.

  9. I’ve certainly had times where I’ve cared more about my appearance than the work I was there to do. And I was not happy! And did not move ahead very much in my work.

    You totally nailed a great point here, Chris. When we are not our authentic selves, we rob our joy.


    1. Hi Jannie — yeah, caring about our appearance more than our project doesn’t sound very fun to me either. Sometimes I wonder whether all the concern about appearance comes from the idea shared by a lot of people that work is actually supposed to be about suffering, and about service to others with no enjoyment for ourselves — kind of a martyrdom view of work.

  10. Hi Chris .. Getting productive by getting real – if we can do and look at everything in life as worth doing – however menial – for the pleasure or satisfaction it gives others or ourselves .. then we’ll be real and we won’t worry about the negativity of it .. the dullness of it, and because we’ll be giving off a positive image – we’ll be more relaxed and life in general will be easier .. no worries hanging over us – let go .. sort things out the best way we can.

    Thanks – Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary — I think that’s a good point, that “zooming out” and noticing the contribution we’re making with the tasks we’re doing can be a great source of motivation — even something as mundane as organizing our business’s folders, as I often say, can be fulfilling if we remember that we’re doing it as part of offering our services to the world.

  11. Of course, when we’re being true to ourselves, we’d be productive. It only becomes a challenge when people around us are not so keen about who we really are – then gets in the way! How great it would be if we’re truly appreciated even if were weird but highly creative, silent but reliable and efficient, loud at parties but awfully quiet at work. I’d like to be myself all the time. I mean, who doesn’t? Pretense is much to complex and overloading! But come to think of it, there’s norms and stuff called culture wherein we have to somehow fit. If we do, things like group relationships and systems become smooth; if we don’t, we’d cause a stir, possibly a conflict or we’d likely be treated differently.
    Ah, life. It’s a matter of knowing when to be this and when to be that. What really matters is we don’t compromise or sacrifice too much just to be pleasant and acceptable. Hey, don’t you think that’s what Friday parties are all about?

  12. Hi Anina — I get that it can be confusing when it seems like others have all these expectations around how we’re supposed to be at work, that diverge from how we’d like to be. I think it’s key to keep in mind that we don’t have to do what others expect — that, at any time we’re complying with a social convention, we’re doing so out of choice. The choice may be between keeping our current job and losing it, but that’s still a choice, and I think keeping that in mind is empowering.

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