This week I’ve been reading an excellent book with a misleading title: Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach To Success At Work.
The author, Cathy Salit, works with a performance ensemble for executive and personal development projects. Her book focuses on using elements of theatre — especially improvisational acting — to frame business interactions.
One of Salit’s key points is that being authentic isn’t about finding the Real You. We have many authentic selves and we can draw on those selves in different situations.
Often it’s easy to identify with one identity and fall back on using that self in all situations. Yet growing into new careers — and new business opportunities — often calls for finding new selves and new ways to respond.
In other words, change the character you play in your story. Or create a new story to fit the character you want to be.
Some ways to do this:
(1) Tell a story as a character — someone as different from yourself as possible.
When practicing in a safe space, you could try some of Salit’s recommended exercises.
Practice telling a story as if you were a fiery preacher … or as if you were sharing a secret with a few close friends … or as if you were down at the bar with a few of your closest friends, where you felt totally comfortable.
If you see yourself as a shy introvert, play the role of an extroverted sales rep.
You won’t be this character when you’re working with clients, making a presentation, or writing your copy. But you’ll be more open to showing a different side of yourself.
(2) Choose your self-disclosure persona.
Salit is a big fan of self-disclosure. She encourages executives to share their personal stories with colleagues, to develop closeness. The idea is that people have to buy into you before they buy into what you’re selling.
I bring a different perspective. I’m more concerned with setting boundaries. If I had to pick one right that was most important to preserve, it would be privacy.
So it goes against my core values to say, “You MUST tell everyone about your abusive mother or your alcoholic dad or your daughter’s run-in with the law.”
Salit shares a lot of stories about executives who bravely shared sensitive experiences. In her book, all the stories end on a positive note. Audiences respond enthusiastically — in one case, with a three-minute standing ovation. But it’s likely that some self-disclosures end less happily, especially without the kind of intense coaching Salit gives her clients.
I once told a story about going to the gym. I wanted to be “up close and personal.”
Now you have to realize I actually love going to the gym. As a child, I was a wuss and skipped as many PE classes in high school as possible. (The gym teachers marked me “present” sometimes because they were so happy I wasn’t there.) But now I’ve held a gym membership for most of my adult life: Zumba, weights, yoga … you name it.
When I told this story to one audience, the air went cold. It took me a while to realize that most of those people positively hated working out. They resented every bicep curl.
I learned. Just the other day I posted on Facebook, “Trying to convince myself that a cucumber salad is just as satisfying for an afternoon snack as a blueberry muffin with butter and coffee.”
That resonated. You have to pick your stories.
(3) In a new situation, come up with a listening role.
Whether you’re networking or participating in a sales conversation, think of yourself as an explorer. In the language of improv comedy, an “offer” is an opportunity to take the scene in a surprising new direction.
What “offers” are you getting? What is your “scene partner” saying that could lead to a whole new story? What can you dig into with more questions?
If you’d like to explore these ideas further, join me for a one-on-one consultation. We’ll explore the ways you can expand your marketing … and maybe add some stories to fit your strategy.