Had any conversations go the wrong way today?
When you couldn’t quite get your point across and what you did say wasn’t really what you meant to say?
It could be that you’re losing out in the Persona Lottery – the highly personalised game that we’re all playing even though most of us are unaware that we’ve even bought a ticket.
There’s nothing new in people having different personas, the multiple roles we assume in different social and professional situations.
At work we can be colleague, boss, subordinate, supplier and client.
At home we might be sibling, parent, child, friend and neighbour.
What’s new is the speed and frequency with which we now have to change from one role to another, and the degree to which we are simultaneously many things to many people.
Remember life before smart devices? When you could leave your family personas at the front door and use your journey to work to ease in to your professional roles?
Now, the walk to the tube or the morning bus ride gives rise to an early morning cameo from your very own ensemble cast. It’s like a daily mash-up of Friends, Mad Men and EastEnders, playing in your own head, before 9am.
Having to change gears so quickly, at the flick of a screen, isn’t something with which my generation alone struggles.
The recent and widely-reported research from Glasgow University made clear how teenagers feel the pressure of 24/7 connectivity and I suspect that the well-documented Fear Of Missing Out is exacerbated by another incessant and compulsive drive – the need to say The Right Thing At The Right Time.
There are times when we get this right, slipping effortlessly from one persona to another. And there are also times when the speed and fluency of the switch is more dial-up connection than high speed broadband.
So how can the odds of maintaining peace of mind, quality of relationships and authenticity of communication be improved in the Persona Lottery?
Some tactical measures might help.
Things like taking time away from digital devices.
Using out-of-office and voicemail messages to buy time.
And counting to ten (or twenty or 100) while calming down, picking up the thread of the previous conversation in a particular persona and responding accordingly.
A client of mine plays the Persona Lottery by trying to work in clusters. She makes the calls and connections she needs to as a mum; then those needed as a caring daughter to elderly parents. Then she focuses on the work-related conversations.
Another client tries to structure his day in sections – successive and exclusively face-to-face meetings at work; then time for digital correspondence that starts with work and moves along to personal interests.
Like all tactical approaches, and in the absence of a silver bullet, these ideas work for some people, some of the time. Where they do help, the biggest success factor is the initial awareness of the problem and a determination to change.
It might also be helpful to ask three wider and more strategic questions.
Firstly, as you switch to a new persona, what your intent in the subsequent conversation? Are you trying to vent frustration from a previous and unrelated exchange? Are you trying to prove a point and to boost your own mood by ‘winning’ the conversation? Or do you feel good about the world; hoping to share a little of that positivity? (For further reading here, I’m OK – You’re OK by Dr. Thomas Harris provides a brilliant and best-selling explanation of transactional analysis).
Secondly, you might ask if a pattern of unresolved issues has attached itself to a specific persona. Time and inclination might argue against identifying and tackling the ‘elephant in the room’, but shying away from difficult conversations can build resentment that is easily transferred to different and unrelated situations.
Finally, what happens when you are persona-free?
Strip away the need to communicate as colleague, boss, subordinate, supplier and client. Put to one side sibling, parent, child, friend and neighbour.
What’s left? As the fragments of countless interactions recede, what emerges? A person who knows where they’re going and is content with their direction and their conduct? Or a person who can’t quite reconcile their lifestyle and behavior with their values and their purpose?
Find the answers to these questions and you might well find that your ticket in the Persona Lottery is much more likely to be a winning one.