Why Developing Your Workplace Persona Is Important

Author and leadership coach Stanley Bing once said that to succeed in business, a person must suppress his true self.

Humoring his readers in a column for Fortune, the key, he says, is replacing one’s true self with a “functional self.” That is, if you want to keep your sanity.

Why is this talk of having a “functional self” so important? “Why can’t I just be myself?” you may ask.

Experts believe choosing one over the other at work, i.e. your work persona over your “true self”, has its own rewards.

Choosing a workplace persona over our personal identity, when at work, has its own rewards.Click To Tweet

Having a work persona doesn’t mean you’re a modern version of Jekyll and Hyde. It simply means that you are making a conscious effort to hone and cultivate professional values that serve your career.

According to Dara Goldberg, founder and president of leadership development firm, Metier Consulting, forming a work persona involves determining the values that are central to who you are, and that would “work in service of how you want to be perceived and experienced by others.”

Goldberg explains that shaping your persona is a two-way process: As you determine the values that help you define yourself at the office, you also have to work on sticking to them.

Career resource Monster.com advises professionals to ask feedback from their colleagues and managers to get a feel of their “own” brand, and how people at the office perceive them.

Referencing a Bute study, Monster.com stated that some 43 percent of workers “did not know or were not sure” of how coworkers peg them. However, it said that having an idea about so will allow you to work on “sending the right messages.”

Positive benefits

Faking it until you make it indeed holds true in the corporate world. And there’s scientific evidence out there to prove it, according to a report from CBC.ca.

A study from the University of Greenwich in London revealed that opening up to coworkers could be detrimental to you. 533 volunteers participated in the study.

Those who shared their sentiments to partners did well in terms of well being. But it’s not the case with those who relayed their woes to colleagues.

“You hear self-help gurus say that the secret of happiness is ‘being yourself’ or ‘expressing your true feelings,’ but that doesn’t seem to apply in the workplace,” says study co-author Dr. Oliver Robinson.

“In some circumstances, it may be that a polite smile or tactfully keeping quiet may be more conducive to your well-being than saying what you actually think and feel to work colleagues,” adds Robinson.

In relation to this, your willingness to participate in the rumor mill could be telling of your workplace success. Talking about other people with another colleague is seen as a gateway to the “real you.” 

But your lack of participation in gossip-mongering in the office would actually be helpful in setting yourself apart from the crowd.

Is revealing your true self an entirely bad thing?

One’s ability to reveal his true self increases as he reaches a certain level of power within an organization. Money and status, according to Bing, are the primary “drivers” of the capability to reveal one’s authentic self. 

Opening up too much to colleagues about your personal life, or being too available can leave you exhausted, according to this Quora discussion. Reserve the real you only for a select group of people, particularly your loved ones.

As one commenter said, people are generally just curious about you; but this doesn’t mean that they care about you. You don’t have to tell them anything, even when you feel like it or think you can trust them.

People won’t be able to resist talking about you when you’re not around. That’s true, even when you just happen to pop up in the conversation.

We are called professionals, at work, for a reason.

Think twice the next time you are tempted to let your guard down.

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Sandy Miguel is an independent website publisher, journalist and photographer from the Philippines. She used to be the managing director of an advertising technology provider where she managed around 50 online contractors at one time. Sandy writes about managing work-related stress, exploring one's options outside the four corners of an office, and work-life balance for Get Over Your Job.