Random Facts about me – the fine line between personal and private and when to overstep it
Recently I got a package from a client. It contained an enamel cup with a thank you note and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch and my cat. It might look super cheesy to you, but I love it. Because what you must know about me: I love everything Benedict Cumberbatch is in, and I love my cat. And it is no accident that my cat is called Benny, the short name for Benedict. So you can imagine my enjoyment when I got such a nice present that touches all my buttons – appreciation and the sign that I do a good job, my cat, and one of my favourite actors. But why was my client able to be so specific in the first place? Because I shared personal details about me.
Why do I tell you this story? It is highly personal stuff, right? I often get asked if people should even share personal details in a professional setting. What sits behind this question mostly is a fear to share too much. After all, we do have a pretty extensive record of reports where private data published on the internet unintentionally and unfavourably became public for whatever reason. The question however mostly implies one of two other problems. Either people don’t understand the difference between personal and private or they feel that the line between the two is very fine – and they want to stay away from it as far as possible rather than to overstep it. So where is the line?
According to Merriam Webster, the adjective “personal” means affecting a particular person. “Private” refers specifically to be intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person. So personal is about oneself. What affects me and my image? Private is about the other side. What do I want others to know? You could argue that that is exactly the point. Everything that affects my image is private, because I don’t want others to know it.
But what does this say about you? What can we learn about you from that? Nothing. And when we don’t know anything about something we become creative. We fill the gaps. That is basically the premise of Personal Branding. Even as an individual person you have a brand, a reputation. If you don’t create that brand yourself others will do so. You don’t have to share every little detail from your life. You don’t have to share where you went to elementary school and what colors your diapers were.
But you could share where you grew up. You could share your favourite meal or the latest movie that you have seen, although at a first glance it has nothing to do with what you do professionally. Because in the end, it has everything to do with that. You are and you have a personality. Chances are that you chose what you do for a living based on your likes, preferences, and experiences. And chances also are that you choose what you do in your free time based on the same likes and preferences.
Ultimately this will influence how you establish business connections. Having a professional relationship is not about B2B, or B2C anymore, it’s about H2H – Human to Human. Business runs better when people feel they have a personal connection to you, your brand or your “tribe”. Referrals are the most impactful way to generate leads. And people only refer what they know or what they think they know. They will only build relationships if they feel like they know you. They will only share themselves if they know your story.
There’s another reason why I share myself so extensively: I don’t like to compartmentalize. It is hard work to always keep a concrete wall between business and private life. I don’t want to put in the effort. A lot of what I do to make a living is my life. Most of the time there is no strict line between private interest and business matter. But isn’t it unprofessional to show what you do on a Sunday if it is not underlining your hustler lifestyle? Well, I don’t think so! It shows that I live what I teach. Show, don’t tell. I tell my clients to not respond out of a panic or fear, but rather to calm down, take a step back and with that mindset tackle a problem. So I also take the time to calm down. For me there is nothing unprofessional about my personal lifestyle choices.
I will continue to share myself. So far, I have shared nothing that I wouldn’t tell a friend – and that is how I like to see my clients and how I mostly choose them. Even and especially in a professional setting where we spend so much of our time in, I’d rather spend that time with clients I could see myself casually share a glass of wine or a coffee with. The lines of professional and private are blurry anyway.
I see the personal as the glue between the private and the professional. I don’t share everything. There are things that should be nobody’s business. But I share just enough that my clients and professional connections know me well enough. They know what I stand for. They know what they can expect from me. No big negative surprises along the way. It allows me to have that good time with them. But also, I don’t have to put too much brain juice into the consideration what to tell and what to hide. Because if you work with me or share a glass with me or both: You will get the whole personal package.