Fyodor Dostoevsky famously wrote, “Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.”
Let’s be honest and admit that you and I aren’t as awesome as we wish we were—or our grandmas think we are. We’re a dulled version of the persona we tout in interviews and on LinkedIn. Our lives are not as enviable or adventurous as our Instagram posts. The values and principles that are important to us aren’t as realized in our lives as we would hope or as often as we wished.
In my mind, I’m a really generous person—but considering my time and fiscal donations over the past year, I know I could do better. In my heart, I’m a compassionate person—but more often than not, when a friend is sharing a sad story, my mind wanders and I know they can feel my disinterest.
Frankly, there’s a difference between who I wish I was and how people experience me to be.
Companies have the same problem. A couple years ago I was booked on a flight on a big name airline and upon settling in at the gate, the attendant taking tickets told me that I was not, in fact, on the flight. For a confused moment I looked around, thinking maybe I was in the wrong place or perhaps here on the wrong date. I looked down to confirm that the information on my ticket matched that of the digital screen, and replied, “Yes, actually I am. I am on this flight and I even have a seat, 26B—just look again at my ticket.” The woman, without empathy, briskly responded that my seat was not available. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I have a ticket, confirmation, and I even have a seat reserved—26B!” Just then, the company’s frontline representative came over and explained to me that their policy is to overbook each flight, with the assumption that not everyone will show up. Unfortunately that day, their policy backfired—on me—and there weren’t enough seats for everyone. She offered no compassion in her eyes, no remorse in her tone, and didn’t even utter an apology.
Stunned, I slowly walked back to the counter to reschedule my flight and I noticed an airline poster that read, “Fly on your schedule with over 5,000 daily flights. Fly the friendly skies.” This had to be a joke. We all know, with the exception of one noticeably different exception (Southwest), that there’s nothing friendly about the experience you’ll have as a customer of those airlines, and rarely will anything be on your schedule.
When it comes to branding, companies ought to spend a lot of attention on developing clarity—clarity of purpose, values, priorities and principles. Unfortunately, it’s pretty rare to find a company, or a person, who has reached any level of clarity.
But what’s even more important is for someone’s experience of that brand to consistently match the stated slogans. If I’m conducting an interview with someone and they tell me that they’re really dedicated and passionate, but the vibe I receive is reserved or distant, then I won’t believe them. If a company says they focus on quality, but the dude making my burrito is sloppy and the tortilla falls apart, then my trust for what they say is going in a negative direction. Their promise is inauthentic.
The brands that we love have the magical ability to back up what they say. And if they don’t, then they own the gap, apologize, and make it right.
Similarly, the people that we love can look you in the eye, tell you who they are, offer stories from their past the give evidence of that to be true, and then back up their promises with consistency.
So what about you or your company? Are you who you say you are or claim to be? Do people experience you in a way that matches how you wish they would?
Don’t assume that you know the answers. Find out, with a few Bulldog Uncommon Sense steps:
1. First, clarify what’s most important to you and what you want to be known for.
2. Find out what you’re actually known for. Ask 5 people who know you well (family, friends or co-workers), “What are the two words you use to describe me?”
3. Regularly seek feedback after conversations, meetings and encounters. Ask questions like, “Being engaged as a good listener is important to me—how did I do when we had that conversation? What did I do that made you feel like I was engaged, and what could I have done differently? What was your experience of being with me?”
You’re not always going to be understood or appreciated for being true to yourself. But, you’re going to feel better about yourself and find the peace that can only come by living and acting authentically. Taking the active steps to discover your blind spots will pay dividends in loyalty and connection with the people that matter most.