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Being Serious vs Being Taken Seriously

6 December 2012 25 Comments

Thinking deep thoughts…

“Why would you ever use that as your profile picture?”

There wasn’t even a trace of sarcasm or concern in her question. It was pure horror. I might as well have been climbing up her chair trying to eat her brain.

“What do you mean? It isn’t a bad picture. I like it.”

We were discussing my choice to use the picture to the left out of all of the beautiful photos from the shoot Melissa Mullen did during my last visit home as my avatar on multiple social profiles.

“You have so many other pictures that look so much better. You aren’t making some weird stupid face.”

“It’s not a weird stupid face. It’s my face. I make that face all the time. In fact, to get that picture the photographer said to me ‘Make the Elisa face.’ I didn’t know what she meant, and she was like ‘Look up in the air and do funny things with your mouth.’” I chuckled at the memory.

“How do you expect anyone to take you seriously when that is your picture? That is the first impression you make, and you look like a joke.”

I stared at the Skype image staring back at me, barely listening  as my friend railed on through my headset about the picture.

“I dunno. It’s just me. The other pictures are great, I use them on some of my more professional stuff. But I don’t look like that without a team of highly skilled makeup and hair people and a professional photographer telling me exactly how to position my shoulders and where to point my chin. This is the real me. The person I want people to know.”

“Like I said. No one is going to take you seriously.”

“Well…maybe I’m just not serious. Did you ever think of that?” I launched a verbal assault that was the equivalent of a three-year old hurling their body on the floor to flail and scream until they “won” the argument.

My friend, obviously much more serious and mature than I am, tactfully re-directed the conversation to another subject. I’m fairly certain I saw her avatar roll it’s eyes at me over the audio chat, but I may have been a bit blind with rage.

I zoned out for the last 20 minutes of our conversation, offering Mmmm-hmmms and occasional 7-word replies. We hung up amicably and I was left to sit in the wake of her accusations and their implications.

Was it possible that because I had a rather cheeky profile picture on my Facebook page that people would not take me seriously? Or, more importantly, that they would not think I was serious?

That’s a big problem when your business is built on what people think of you and message. As a writer and editor, clients hire me because they relate to and connect with my writing and voice. If my friend felt like she couldn’t take me seriously, then how would my clients?

As I plan directions and plans for 2013 in business and life, I’ve been replaying this conversation with my friend again and again in my head. Then today, I was listening to the latest Tropical Talk Radio episode on Tropical MBA, I focused on Rob Hanly explaining some of his theories on 5 Sociopathic Tactics.

One of the tactics he reviews is the ‘One-Peg Theory’ – You should always dress one peg above the people you want to influence.

It is important to note I value Rob’s opinion on lots of stuff from my interactions with him on our online forums and on Twitter. I say it is important because you need to know that whenever Rob has something to say about a process or a business practice I take note.

Rob Hanly and Chris Ducker at DC > BKK

It is also important to note that the first time I met Rob in person, he was wearing a Spiderman costume in a bar.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. He was wearing a Spiderman costume in a bar.

Is that one-peg above the brown cocktail dress I was wearing? In theory, no. But no one remembers my brown cocktail dress, even though it was super cute. People remember Rob’s Spiderman costume. And few of us think less of his opinion because he chose to stand out in a costume in a bar.

The Spiderman costume did NOTHING to diminish how seriously I take him. It did go a long way to confirming that he is not always a serious person.

I am not a serious person.

Sorry if that just hit you like an Acme anvil.

The difference is that I know that I am not a serious person. I write creative pieces about robots and travel sex and unicorns (only occasionally do these overlap in one particular piece) and I would rather perform a personal appendectomy with a used salad spork than write canned corporate copy for a website.

I use exclamation marks and smiley faces and I will not be ashamed!!  :)

(Ok, maybe I’m a little ashamed sometimes)

Yet after two years of working with people I have come to an important conclusion: I don’t want to work with people who are looking for a serious person.

I get what my friend is saying. That in her experience, working in the grown up world of business, she is worried that I will alienate “important business connections” and people won’t take me seriously. That will affect my business and bottom line. And I will end up as a hobo on a street in India with roaming dogs and scraggly ex-yogis scrapping for naan.

That isn’t the case though. There are millions (billions) of people out there in the world. Not everyone is looking for someone to make them sound perfect. Some people understand that perfect is just not a reality to their brand and voice.

Why change myself because of the people who won’t take me seriously cause I have a kind of sassy profile pic?

I’m sure they are lovely people, who volunteer to help kittens and help old women cross the street.

But they are just not the client I am looking for. In fact, they might not be as important a part of my life as I once considered.

I promise, we will hate each other at the end. And hating people takes a LOT of time and energy.

Do you really want to waste time and energy having to hate someone?

There’s a vast difference between being serious and being taken seriously. The latter is far more important when it comes to establishing your trust and reputation. The former is only important if you want to work with people who need you to be serious.

There is a time and place for those people. Just not on my watch.

Photo Credit: Melissa Mullen Photography

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  • Pdiddy

    I always think of that look as your thinking about something look. To me it looks like you are thinking about something – which you most always are. It could be as mundane as what you will have for supper or maybe more serious such as should I really go to Bali.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Haha, most common comment on this pic on Facebook is that I am thinking deep thoughts or looking extremely mischievous. ;)

  • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

    Amen! I’ve had qualms on occasion about using my panda-hatted avatar for more “serious” sites like Brazen Careerist, but you know what? That’s my brand. And it has yet to be detrimental to my writing success (that I know of, anyway). In fact, I’m considering changing my one non-panda-hatted profile pic (LinkedIn) over to the standard pic after reading this. In fact, I think I just may go do that… :)

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      You are a much more bold person that I. On LinkedIn, Twitter, bylines & bios, etc I do still use my “less cheeky” professional picture. In those places, I get that impressions are made with minimal investment in the person themselves. But for my Facebook and Skype, on which people are generally engaging with me after they know me a bit…well, they better know that look is one they will get over the course of our interactions.

  • http://twitter.com/robhanly Rob Hanly.

    This article was made to be quoted. So succinct, and the title nails the two sides of the fence. Thanks, girl.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Thanks for being so quotable! And giving me lots to think about and a push to enable some of my more sociopathic tendencies.

  • http://twitter.com/BrazenCW Stacey Herbert

    Being serious, is seriously overrated!

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Truth.

  • http://www.frontierlivin.com/ Taylor Pearson

    Baller post. I’ve always found it curious how people operate like this. They put on “serious faces” and go to business meetings then all come home and talk about how douchy it is to their own friends. It’s like everyone knows it’s a charade, but no one wants to give it up.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Right?! I have learned that those people are difficult to understand and respect. I appreciate authentic people way more.

      • http://annachristina.me/ Anna Christina

        It’s easier to trust authentic people. I’d rather have a coworker or boss who is sometimes a jerk, than someone who is always fake smiley nice. I like to know where I stand with people.

        • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

          This is very true. Honesty has gotten me in some hot water before with friends or coworkers, but I can’t stand most of the game playing that posturing creates.

  • http://www.jonmyers.com/ Jon Myers

    Ugh… Sorry, I have to take the contrarian view here. Don’t hate me gang. Just trying to provide thoughtful feedback. :)

    I find the goofy pics irritating in business.

    It’s not about serious or not serious. In poker there is the notion of table image, and I believe a similar concept is at work in business. Your table image in business, your image says something.

    I’m not saying you have to be in a suit or posing with a stern look, but I dunno…

    As humans we have conscious and unconscious thoughts and conclusions when we see pictures of faces. That’s how we’re programmed. You can’t control those urges.

    Honestly though, again it’s not about serious or not serious in images for me. I just don’t like the goofy pics when someone is asking me for my money as a business owner. If I’m buying a novelty consumer product then maybe.

    Remember it’s an element of humor, and everyone has different taste levels with regards to humor. Pulling off humor is incredibly difficult.

    A goofy pic might unconsciously communicate a $25/ service provider, whereas an image that captures more authority and presence may command a $200/ hour fee. Obviously, it all doesn’t come down to a picture. Images are just part of the supporting cast, but they help set the tone and perception.

    Regardless of “brand” (I wouldn’t want goofy to be part of my brand as a provider of business services) with the amount of competition in the business services (copywriting, design, etc..) space why create ammunition that might risk potential opportunities.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      I get what you are saying. And if I were in the business of copywriting for corporate clients or just starting out and needing to convince people of my value and experience, I might have a different pic. In fact, when I was in both those situations I did have a much different pic. And in very professional settings (bylines, LinkedIn, Twitter, Rapportive, DC) I do use a more professional pic.

      This was more so about the way that I should have that persona and image EVERYWHERE because “What might people think?” And I honestly realized, in that Skype call and afterwards, I could give a flying fuck what those people think. For every person who is off-put by a brand or messaging, there is another person out there who connects with it and would happily pay my (not cheap) rates.

      We can’t be all things to all people. And trying to be is a lesson also accomplished by standing next to a brick wall and repeatedly whacking your head against it.

  • http://twitter.com/elisestephens Elise Stephens

    I think it takes more bravery to be our goofy, comfortable selves, than to dress “professionally” and give a fake smile. I really like how Rob wore a Spiderman costume and this made him memorable, while not ruining what he had to offer. It feels like a both/and to me: do good, excellent work, and be yourself, even if that looks goofy.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Totally. Much easier to be what we are expected to be, cause there are examples and scripts and “that’s just how you do it.”

      The latter part this is even more important: “do good, excellent work, and be yourself, even if that looks goofy.” I turn away more clients than I take on. I have not had that luxury in the past, and that is due in large part to the fact that I was good and did good work for long enough that people noticed

  • http://annachristina.me/ Anna Christina

    I love so much about this article. I have so much to say in response that I could write a whole page, but I’ll spare you all of my nonsense and just tell one quick story.

    My Vice President and I took a work trip to Brazil to visit our factory there. One night at dinner, he made a comment that generalized a certain group of people and I didn’t think it was a fair statement. We ended up in a heated discussion about our different viewpoints. Despite the exchange, we both still very much respect each other. Fast forward a few months and I told a family member about this situation. This family member is a VP of PR and said to me, “Oh honey, you’ll learn you need to hold back your opinions to advance. You shouldn’t have said anything.” While I respect that she is successful, I manage an organization of 100 people and I’m only 30 years old. I think I’m also doing ok on the career front. But, I did reflect on her comments and ask myself, “Should I be worried? Do I need to censor myself more?” I realized that the reason I was hired is for my willingness to bring forward and implement new ideas to improve our company, no matter how unpopular they may be initially. She is in PR so she might need to worry about saying just the right thing. I work in Operations so I’m more relatable to my team if I’m sometimes rough around the edges. My personality is an asset, as long as I am tactful when I state my opinions. My point is this: rock on with your relatable self because well-behaved women rarely make history (I love that quote). I also agree with your point about being a ‘fit’ because I wouldn’t work for a place that wanted me to be an overly professional, unrelatable manager.

    So, that’s my story.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      I’ve struggled with that a lot also. Especially as I was being told by other peers and “mentors” how to advance my career. Then one day my boss told me “I hired you because you have good ideas and a strong conviction. You’ll have a lot of people in Corporate America who will try to force you to fall in line, don’t let them change you.” She then gave me a snowflake necklace with tiny crystals to remind myself that I was unique and didn’t have to be part of the system. One of the few possessions I kept in my foot locker at my parents house. And a great lesson. Sounds like you got the same lesson, but by observation.

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  • Mokah25

    I get both sides of the code. The funny thing is that when I saw the picture, I was so interested in why you would post that that it caught my interest to continue reading. There’s definitely a time and a place, and sounds like you have what you are targeting, so it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t fit into the stereotypical box of what you should look like for work photos.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      I’d be interested to survey folks who see stuff like this to see the reaction. Cause you are so right. For every person who says “That’s such an unprofessional photo, what are you thinking?!” I’ve had someone else who said “I wanted to learn more about you or work with you BECAUSE of that picture.” The thing is being confident enough to pull either off, cause people can peg insincerity a mile away!

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  • Ophie

    You go Elisa!! :) everything you wrote about is so relatable to me.

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