One of the biggest challenges my personal branding clients share with me is the pull between performing up to others’ expectations, living up to the ideals of society/parents/friends/employers, etc., and being authentic to themselves.
While the pressures of the outside world can feel conflicting with our own goals, passions, and beliefs, I argue that there is only one time it is okay to “fake” personal brand behavior.
Before we get to that, let’s look at some of the ways and places we feel it might be appropriate to act like someone we’re not to get ahead:
1. Job. If you misrepresent yourself in the interview, you’d have to play that role for a long time (assuming they don’t figure it out and ask you to leave). Similarly, trying to fake skill, experience, or personality traits in a job rarely serves you, your colleagues, or the employer. Simply put, faking it on the job is not advisable.
2. Social networking. Whether you’re active on dating sites, social networking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or What’sApp, business networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn), or you simply monitor your online reputation to manage inaccuracies, the online space demands one thing: Authenticity. Almost daily we see examples of individuals or companies misrepresenting their offer, goals, vision or commitment, and the community online vigorously persecutes them, without hesitation.
3. Relationships. Who you are in your relationships (social, professional, personal) says a lot about your integrity and values. To misrepresent yourself or “fake” that you are someone else not only breaks trust with the people you are in a relationship with, but I have to believe it would affect your self-reliance and beliefs about who you are on this planet and why you are here.
4. Commitments. On the job, in the community, or in relationships, what you say is what you are held accountable to. Misrepresenting yourself by haphazardly offering commitments is a fast way to destroy your reputation.
5. Networking. When building relationships for professional gain (contacts, resources, information, etc.), being authentic is critical. In order for someone to want to know you and see how they can help you, they must believe that “what they see is what they get.” For me to refer you to my colleagues or advocate for you on LinkedIn, I risk my own credibility and personal brand. I need to know I can trust you.
So, when can you safely “fake it” and retain integrity and build your personal brand? Let me illustrate through this example:
Susan is about to walk into the room for an important meeting with the senior management team of her company. She will be helping them see the importance and validity of her business idea, which has risk and reward for the individuals involved and the company. Her knees are knocking, her heart is racing, and her palms feel sweaty.
If during Susan’s presentation she is feeling nervous and anxious, stumbling on her words, and asking for patience and forgiveness as her message becomes even more frustrating, the outcome will likely be disappointing.
On the other hand, if Susan quietly recites her personal mantra, “You got this! You know they will love this idea! You are stronger than you think! Go get them!” and she enters the room with the appearance of confidence that she might not feel, she stands a much better chance of making a positive impression and resulting in a good outcome.
Confidence and self-assuredness don’t come easy to 99% of people. Many times we have to force ourselves to project enthusiasm, courage, and certainty when self-doubt can overwhelm us. Is this fake? In a sense, it is. We are acting out of concert with our authentic feelings. However, I advise clients to lean into the nervousness, anxiety, and fear that can torpedo a presentation, speech, meeting, or networking event, and pretend they are confident, fearless, and self-possessed.
Interestingly, when practiced enough, the act of pretending to be self-assured and confident can actually result in real feelings. These feelings lead to more confident behavior. As long as the behavior is managed for the goal of preventing a collapse in delivery of the message, I think it’s perfectly fine to “fake it.”