A couple of years ago I was scheduled to attend an accounting seminar, and I was dreading it every bit as much as you’d expect. Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and my experience is that accountants typically aren’t the most lively public speakers. I arrived at the seminar, armed myself with about a gallon of coffee, and settled in to see if maybe, just maybe, the guy running the show might actually keep me awake.
It was just as awful as I’d feared. Not only did the accountant show up in a suit that looked like a 1980s KGB castoff, but he also sported a world-class monotone. He looked like a robot facing the room as he methodically slogged through the agenda. I found some toothpicks, propped my eyelids open, and I managed to stay alert enough to realize that the information he presented was actually really useful. As the robot accountant finished up the seminar, I jotted down his name and made a note to NEVER attend another of his meetings. Even though the guy was smart, he could put a hyperactive Chihuahua to sleep.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. I attended a party at a friend’s house, and I was headed out back to help with the grill when I saw him. The robot accountant was at the party. Panicked, I fled to the bathroom to avoid another snooze fest. Eventually, however, I had to get back out to the party, and – as you might imagine – there he was. I was trapped, and of course he recognized me.
Even before we started to talk, though, I realized that he was dressed casually and seemed much more relaxed than he had in the seminar. He thanked me for having attended, and we made a little small talk. I was surprised to discover that he was actually really funny, and we were laughing about a joke he’d made when he said something that floored me and inspired this article. He said, “I hate having to be all professional at work. I wish I could make money just by being myself.”
I took two important things away from that party. First, Mr. Robot is now my accountant – the very best one I’ve ever had. Second, I realized the disservice we do ourselves when we conceal our a
uthentic personalities from our customers to try to achieve some “professional” demeanor. Now, I’m not advocating littering your next presentation with f-bombs, but when we act rigid and formal, we’re hiding who we really are and missing an opportunity to connect with clients in a more meaningful way.
I’m reminded of Dr. Seuss, who wrote some lines that we should keep in mind when we’re deciding whether to be a robot professional or ourselves for our next meeting. He said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” The fact is that not all clients are a perfect fit for you. Now it’s possible for you to put on a faux persona and woo them, but then you’ve landed a customer for whom you’re going to continually have to put on a show. Far better to find the clients who actually like the way you work naturally than to spin your wheels chasing customers who aren’t a great fit for you.
Authenticity creates trust, and being yourself lets you connect with the clients for whom you’re a natural fit. Resist the temptation to act like a robot professional, and you’ll not only be happier, but you’ll also be more successful.