Private vs. Personal: How to Be Authentic Without Showing Your Undies

Be real.
Be authentic.
Be personal.


It’s not about you.
Nobody cares what you had for lunch.
Keep your opinions to yourself.

OK…so…how exactly do we follow all these rules?

How do we be both personal and real without being tedious and over-sharing?

Let’s Make A Distinction Between The Private And The Personal

“Private” refers to the details of your private life, which are, let me assure you,
interesting only to you and the other people who are engaged with you privately
(i.e., your family and friends).

“Personal” refers to the kind of person you are – your personality. This, I can
assure you with equal confidence, is fascinating to almost everyone.

Why? Because we love other people. We love learning about other people’s traits
and characteristics and we love comparing ourselves to them. As much as we
may wish that everyone would go away sometimes, we still want to watch more
movies and read more stories and hear more music and peek in through the
blinds and find out more more more about all the other people on the planet all
the time.

We’re hooked. And if you start telling the truth about who you are as a
person, we’ll be hooked on you.

So back to this “personal” vs. “private” thing –

Let me give you an example:

Say we had a meeting scheduled and I came in late.

(Not cool.)

And then by way of apology I said, “I’m so sorry I’m late. You see, my cat had
to go to the vet and my Honda has a funky seatbelt and my shoelace came untied
and my alarm…”

Now I am both late and tedious.

(Totally not cool.)

If, however, I were to arrive late and say, “I’m so sorry I’m late. I was, as my
grandmother would say, ‘trying to put five pounds of sugar into a four-pound
bag.’ My apologies.”

Now it’s still not cool that I’m late, of course, but I have taken the opportunity
of the mistake to let you in on some things about me, personally. About my

I’ve let you know that I’m the kind of person who often tries to do too much,
and also that I’m self-aware enough to admit it without excuses. I’ve implied
that I was close with my grandmother, who was both wise and pithy. I’ve
demonstrated that I am emotionally mature enough to know when an apology is
warranted but not suffering from such extreme low-self esteem as to grovel over
a single infraction.

Get it?

See the difference?

In the first, “private” example, I’m telling you facts and details that don’t have
anything to do with you or with our relationship.

In the second, “personal” example, I’m communicating my values, my
personality and my sense of humor and I’m keeping my focus on how my
person-hood/personality might affect you and our relationship.

Let’s use another example:

Talking to the Unhelpful Customer Service Person

You know when you’re on the phone listening to horrible on-hold-your-call-is-
important-to-us noise as you get transferred around from one inattentive person
to another and you become increasingly enraged with each passing moment?

Yeah, me too.

And I have found that the only way to deal with the dehumanizing effect of
all that non-service oriented “customer service” is to find ways to remind the
person on the other end that we are both real, live people.

So I might say something like, “I know I seem really wrought up about this, but I
was one of those artsy-caring-and-sharing-Free-To-Be-You-And-Me kids, and all
the “that’s just our policy, ma’am” stuff makes me crazy. And I’m sure it can’t be
fun for you to feel like you’re just a machine spouting a script, either, so could we
just talk like real people for a minute?”

Again, saying something like this, you’ve acknowledged the truth of who you
are as a person (and notice that you’ve always been this way – too sensitive, too
revolutionary, too intense, too shy, too whatever-you-got-criticized-for-as-a-
child…) and you’ve recognized the humanity of the other person.

(This technique doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s worth a try. Another
good strategy is to ask the Unhelpful Person, “What would you do if you were
me in this situation?” That usually gets at least a laugh, and sometimes yields a
great solution.)

So what does this mean for your marketing?

It means that you share vivid metaphors rather than tedious data.

So your company’s Facebook post or blog could start out something like, “My
day has been like a long, hot day at a grimy carnival and I didn’t even win the
purple teddy bear,” rather than, “I’m stressed out because X project is due and
my back hurts from the skateboarding accident yesterday.”

Remember – your friends and family might care about the details.

But your public cares about you.

Or they will, once you start sharing the truth about you, the person, and keeping the details of your private life to yourself.

Let me know how it goes, OK? (I’m curious like that.)

(See what I did there?)


Now go be yourself.

{Featured image via Atlas Signs on Etsy}