Ok, so this may appear a little deep, but there is a strong correlation on how you always act to how you perform.
In 1959, sociologist Erving Goffman wrote a book titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. In this work, Goffman adopted the then-discourse of the theatre (think: actors, audience, performance, cues, etc.) to describe micro-level human social interactions and thereby provided a language through which scientists could discuss our “performances” of selfhood.
For this to become a worthy venture, of course, we needed to agree, first, that we are each a variety of selves to be presented variously across time and space. If so, the question scientists asked became, how do we present ourselves and what are the relationships among selfhood/identity, context, and audience (in this case, audience meant the people with whom we interact each day, not those seated before a stage).
What followed soon after, of course, was a whole lot of self-help types, borrowing from the social scientists, in new attempts to advise us on how to most effectively market ourselves, not on LinkedIn or in interviews, at those moments when we know we are on the market for a new position, but in our everyday lives. Particularly when career success is what we seek.
Fifty years later, we revisit three of those tips (of how best to present oneself in daily life) which continue to matter most. Our interest, of course, is in thinking about effective presentations of self as a means for better interrogating/understanding effective salesmanship in the U.S. today.
1. Show, don’t tell: You’ve heard this about professional writing but this is equally key in your daily, social interactions. Provide anecdotes and observable evidence that empower your onlookers to get you, the you you want them to see and know. Telling them who you are, in contrast, is not only empty of evidence, but it fails to respect your interlocutors’ abilities to perceive value (your value) of their own accord. You might recall that old adage, “Actions speak louder than words”?
2. The public prefers sincerity: Goffman distinguished between performances in which the performer meant what one did/said/expressed and those in which one was, instead, duping his/her audience. Sincere, he labelled the first, and cynical, the latter, but what really mattered, Goffman concluded, was one’s success in convincing his/her audience of sincerity (independent of actual sincerity). And in 2016 many argue, sincerity, increasingly, stems from originality (also sometimes referred to as authenticity). So think of the trope of the used car salesman (not original, hardly sincere). Now go and do and be all that the clichéd used car salesman is not.
3. Who you are is always, always context dependent: Read your interlocutors. What cues do they provide you? These are riddled with meaning, as are the spaces in which you interact. Are you in a hospital? Is it public or private? Look for social hierarchies and local systems of value/belief and adapt. In short, the most effective you is a highly particularized you, one best suited to each and every one of the contexts in which you find yourself.
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