So, what do you do for a living?
Have you ever paid attention to how many seconds it is after meeting a new person that they ask you THAT question, or a similar variation thereof: “So what do you do for a living?” Because I’ll put money on it* that it’s most likely not even 30 seconds after first introductions. (*I won’t put money on it because I don’t know where you live and if I did you’d probably get a restraining order if I randomly pitched up at your door…but I digress).
I’ve always thought that it was odd that the first thing we seem to want to know about someone is what they do as a job. I mean, at first I thought that perhaps it’s just because it’s an easy thing to talk about. And maybe that is part of it, but the more I thought about it the more I realised what a damaging, outdated way of thinking it represents, even if we don’t realise it.
Why it matters
You see the first thing it implies is that *that* question is the one that will determine whether I think it’s worth it for me to continue this conversation. Especially at networking events. And while I realise that in business that’s a key element of why you’re there - if you really think about it, it means that you are acknowledging that you will talk/do business with that person purely for what they do, not WHO they are or what they stand for. So we remove any trace of valuing the person or their human values from the equation, and we only place value on what they do to make money. I believe that this is a throw-back to past generations (and sadly some existing situations) where your social status, financial status and type of job dictate your worthiness and even whether I am willing to keep engaging with you. So the implied message is loud and clear - money/title matters more than who you are as a human being. Of course it also perfectly reflects the ethos of the industrial revolution - where as a part of the working class your value was directly related to your daily output in the factory.
But we don’t live in the industrial revolution anymore - and the world of work has sadly not kept up, in my opinion. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a perfect indication of what I think is wrong in business - including online business - today. We have removed much of the humanity from it.
All you have to do is look at the terms that are used to see just how accustomed we have become to this. We have words like ‘resources’, ‘target market’, ‘conversions’, and my own pet hate ‘avatars’ - or even worse ‘ICA’ (Ideal Client Avatar). I know this doesn’t seem that important in the bigger scheme of things but when you start referring to human beings with fears, dreams, hopes, values and feelings as just an acronym, it’s not terribly far before you stop thinking about them as people at all. And I really think that’s a problem. The excuse of it being convenient or quicker is just that, an excuse. If we cannot spare an extra second or two, to read a single complete word that reminds us we are dealing with PEOPLE, then let’s face it - something is seriously wrong.
Beating the Algorithm
Everyone is so busy trying to ‘beat the algorithm’ that they are no longer talking to PEOPLE with their posts. They often don’t write they what genuinely think or feel or care about. They instead try figure out what will get most engagement or likes, and spend hours figuring out what hashtags to use. And then wonder why they don’t feel like they’re connecting with their followers? Why do you think people who put out real, genuine, heartfelt content stand out so much?
The other thing that de-humanising people leads to is the perception that your audience is some kind of intellectual puzzle to be beaten. The massive psychological manipulations that public relations and marketing companies have long been pulling on us is now rampant online too - count-down timers; scarcity tactics; fake ‘live’ webinars etc all take advantage of human tendencies, without actually thinking about the consequences. It plays to all our fears and none of our dreams. I really, really hate that.
Talk, Don’t Tap
Recently somebody I follow on Instagram posted an image that said ’Talk, Don’t Tap’. It really made me think how mindless and impersonal online interactions can become, and so I decided to try an experiment. For the 5 days following instead of just double-tapping to like a post, I made sure to write a comment or send a message - with a proper note too, not just an emoji. I took the time to try use an impersonal online tool to really connect with people….with humans. And the result was actually pretty damn amazing. No, I didn’t get 9000 more followers. I didn’t beat any algorithm. But I felt great - and I got a lot of personal responses from people who were really lovely to talk to. I treated them like humans and they responded the same way…some even being genuinely surprised I’d taken the time to message. I replaced the endorphin hit of ‘likes’ with the feel-good sensation of connecting with someone.
I can’t help but think that if we made sure to remind ourselves that everyone is a living, dreaming, feeling human, the way the world does business would change for the better. Because let’s face it, putting profit before people has not exactly led to this planet being in a particularly great state. Businesses have to make money - trust me, I know! (Boy do I know!!) But I genuinely believe it’s possible to run a successful business while also treating people like…well….like people.
I don’t know what the answer is to solving all of this, but I do know that I try and keep reminding myself of this whenever I am making decisions about how to do things in my business. And the great thing is that I am encountering more and more people out there who are trying to do the same thing. I guess at a philosophical level it all comes back to the idea of treating people the way you would like to be treated. And in many communities (yes, online included) there are people who support each other and encourage each other with exactly that intention, so I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. BUT…imagine how different the world and business in general would be if EVERYONE did that?
Do you have any ‘checks’ in place to help remind to connect with people when doing business?
Imagine being introduced to someone and instead of them asking you what you do for a living, they asked you what you love doing in your free time? Or what makes you really come alive? Or what makes you laugh? It would be a very different conversation, I can tell you that much. The sad thing is I think I’d probably struggle to answer those questions if that did happen…because we have all grown up in a society that makes sure we know our place in the world of work, but doesn’t always prepare us for creating the life that would TRULY make us happy as humans.
So fellow human, as we make decisions for our businesses, and as we browse our social media, let’s keep reminding ourselves that it’s other humans out there - living, loving, dreaming, fearful, fragile, wonderful humans. Like us.
THE KINTSUGI JOURNAL
Kintsugi: The Japanese art of repairing what is broken or damaged with pure gold resin. A philosophical approach that teaches us to treat our flaws and experience as precious parts of us which make us more beautiful and unique, rather than striving for some perceived perfection.
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