Is Your Work Persona Inauthentic?

Dang, Mom… you have a ‘work voice’!

I like to think of myself as pretty authentic at work. I don’t hide my tattoos, I don’t hide my ~thoughts~ (this isn’t always a bonus, by the way…) and I think I usually bring my “full self” into my professional pursuits. So I was caught off-guard when my 21 yr old made this observation, quickly endorsed by her 19 yr old sibling.

I have teased my kids for a while now about “The Retail Laugh.” If you’ve ever worked retail, you know what I’m talking about. That annoying customer says something absurd and you “laugh”, and anyone who knows you is 100% sure that you’re faking it… because you are. (If you have never worked retail, ignore this — nothing to see here — all interactions with retail staff are ALWAYS 100% real… )

So I was curious what they meant when they said I had a “work voice”. They thought about it, and then we got into a rousing conversation about how I speak slower, lower my pitch, and pause in ways that feel ~weird~ to them. Apparently, I also laugh less (this may come as a surprise to those of you who KNOW me professionally… I laugh a LOT more than most people I know, even in work settings), and I “dumb down” my word choices.

Huh. I sat with this for a few days, and I guess it’s all true — but I don’t think it’s all BAD. I used to get hammered (justifiably so) for speaking too fast (which also sometimes triggered my stuttering), using “big words”, and “not being serious enough about your work.” I guess over time, I got tired of getting dinged for these things — or worse, getting left out of conversations because I wasn’t seen as an effective communicator.

I don’t think I’m any less ~me~ when I speak slower with my colleagues than I do with my kids. I mean, yes. My spouse even remarks that it sounds like we’re speaking a foreign language when we get going, and that’s fine when it’s just us… not so fine if it’s a client or a colleague who doesn’t “speak the language”.

I actually don’t think I necessarily “dumb down” my language. I’m very fond of words, being a voracious reader and prolific writer myself. I just recognized that not everybody shares my love of words, so I’m careful not to dive into the deep end, word-choice-wise, until I’m sure that the person I’m speaking with ALSO likes to swim in those depths. I don’t want them to feel like I’m patronizing them, or trying to snowball them with big words to “prove” how smart I am. I’d rather my work product take care of that! 😉

As far as laughing less… well… that’s probably true. As somebody who’s chosen “Chief Happiness Officer” as a profession, there’s already a stigma there that I’m “not serious” about my work, and while nothing could be further from the truth, there’s no benefit in furthering the stereotype. I still laugh a LOT more than most people I know, a situation I’m actively working on fixing, and NOT just by laughing less! (Corporate cultures change slowly, y’all!)

Do you notice that YOU have a “work persona”? How different are you when you interact professionally versus among your friends and family?

And more importantly, how can you make sure that’s not a fundamental change in WHO you are, but more HOW you express your authentic self in ways that are more effective based on your audience?


Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin, founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happiness Is Courage Inc., translates the science of happiness and well-being into actionable plans that get radically positive results. An enthusiastic positivity activist, speaker, author, and researcher, she believes we can change the world for the better by being positive, grateful, and kind, and she’s often quoted as saying “Happiness is a gauge, not a goal”. Her current focus is on helping organizations and teams navigate the particularly complex reality of today’s stressors and engagement challenges by nurturing healthier workplace cultures. No stranger to weird working environments, she believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their strengths, find joy in their profession, and engage in the pursuit of happiness in the workplace and beyond. Sarah has a veritable army of garden gnomes keeping watch over her extensive container gardens and is the proud mother of four amazing humans who are making their positive own marks on the world. She and her spouse Kris, both certified Laughter Yoga leaders, also travel extensively bringing the joy and power of laughter and positivity with organizations of all sizes and industries. In their downtime, they enjoy exploring the outdoors (usually by kayak), dancing, and general merry adventuring. Sarah and her family currently reside in Indiana and travel as often as humanly possible.

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  1. Being spontaneous is not for everyone. Each of us has a different history but our culture teaches us not to be spontaneous, to tighten the body behind rules of behavior, to follow certain statuses (a word that means “to stand still”). Being spontaneous and natural is no longer possible. Our spontaneity and naturalness bring the different masks that the family and society impose and often we don’t find ourselves anymore, we don’t recognize each other anymore.
    But yet, being authentic, spontaneous and natural allows us to feel good, at peace with ourselves. This is a path to wellness. When we accept ourselves as we are and are free to express ourselves, our whole being finds its natural balance and well-being.

  2. I can certainly identify with your perception that we have different personas at work and home. At work I constantly feel like I have to be flawless, make no mistakes, never take a break, never stop learning, and always be on my game. At home I can be my normal flawed self, decide to do nothing or work frenetically. At home I am accepted the way I am. At work not so much. Since age 16, I believe I’ve worked in 30 places so I can speak with confidence that we have a work persona and a home persona.

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