Monday, May 9, 2011

Beware of Imitations

One of my favourite words is “fungible”. It refers to something that is a commodity; interchangeable with others in its category. When something is regarded as a commodity, people will buy the cheapest they can find.

If you are fungible, you could easily be replaced by another person in your category. If you want to make a difference in the world, you should be proud of what makes you different.

However, we often feel pressure to conform and be like others. We imitate what we see as a “model” of success. My background is in Law, and these are some of my experiences. Have you experienced something similar in your field of work?

My first job in legal practice was with a sole practitioner, working on debt recovery litigation. Being a very eager young achiever, I dutifully followed his methods. I imitated his uncompromising approach to litigation, the tone of his letters and the way he spoke to the clients. I was a 22 year old female imitating a 43 year old man. The clients must have thought I was very strange.

Later, I worked for a lawyer who achieved great success by escalating the litigation, almost as a sport. I followed his approach for a while, until I found a way that worked better for me. But meanwhile, I developed the inscrutable “poker face” of the negotiator, which made me seem uptight, bland and humourless. I’m sure that wasn’t very attractive to the clients.

When I trained Law graduates in legal practice skills, I noticed the students’ tendency to imitate what they saw as good lawyer technique. In their written work they relied on legalistic words and phrases, instead of using their own words. During negotiation and trial advocacy classes they seemed to be imitating someone else’s stance, posture and tone of voice. It’s so easy to absorb and adopt other people’s ways of behaving, without even realizing it.

When interviewing lawyers for jobs, I noticed that they often behaved as they thought I wanted them to behave. Perched stiffly on the edge of the chair, a fixed smile, very guarded in their speech, they would respond to my questions by reciting prepared speeches. This concerned me greatly. If they hid their personality, how could an employer assess what they would be like to work with? In my career mentoring work I encourage interviewees to relax a little, and show something of themselves to the interviewer.

Beware of imitations! It’s good to learn from those who are more experienced, but don’t lose what is distinctive about you. Imitating the behaviours of others can appear inauthentic. Clients sense that you are putting up a façade; that you are not showing your real self, and this causes discomfort - even if your intention is behave in the "correct" way. Your personality is a unique asset.

Aspire to be of unique value. You can best make a difference by being you.

No comments:

Post a Comment