You CANNOT Be Serious! (And Other Misunderstandings)

If someone described themselves to you as ‘serious’ what would you presume they were like?


But what constitutes serious to you may not constitute serious to someone else.

For example, when I think someone is serious, my first presumption is they won’t be up for a laugh and all talk will be of weighty matters. (Maybe your presumption would be the same.)

But have you considered that ‘serious’ can mean different things, other than what’s obvious to you?

Another viewpoint

I had a client who once described himself as serious but with whom I’d already had a fair bit of banter – so I was perplexed by his choice of word.

“No – I mean I’m serious about my job. I’m paid to do a day’s work and I take my commitment to that seriously.”

Ohhhhhhhhh. I hadn’t thought if it like that.

It was the same when a client described herself as ‘smart’. I had to clarify if she meant she was smart in the clothing department or smart in the brain department.

Or what about ‘thoughtful’? My default definition would be that someone thinks of others, but I’ve had it used by a client to refer to the way he thinks things over ie he’s full of thoughts. (‘Considerate’ has a similar dual-purpose: considering others or considering the subject.)

If you’re using certain words to convey your personal brand, it’s worth checking they’re landing in others’ brains the way they land in yours.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

The most extreme example of this I can remember is a woman who, when I asked her, “How would you describe your personality?” replied that she was “Energetic”.

Before I go further, let me paint a picture of the person in question: she was in her early 50s, worked in middle-management for a company she had joined straight from school, dressed in a non-descript way that suited her position, spoke with a very soft, low volume voice and her body language and facial expressions were muted.

She was, in my mind, at the other end of the spectrum from energetic. (Although she had plenty of other things to offer with her personal brand – hence my working with her.)

So I asked her what she meant and in her gentle voice she said, “I have a lot of energy”.

That’s when I admitted I didn’t see her that way at all – then I gave her my definition of what someone energetic would be like (fast-talking, moving their hands a lot, very animated face, even a slightly breathless delivery).

I asked her to give me an example to help me understand where she was coming from, which she did in the same low-key voice: “Well, let’s say there’s a problem here at work. A lot of people will think about how to solve it, but if they can’t find an immediate answer, they give up. Whereas I’ll keep going until I find a solution, because I have a lot of energy.”

That’s when the penny dropped. “Oh! You mean mental energy!” That one word clarified the type of energy and, with it, my understanding of what she had to offer – which totally chimed with who she was.

But if we hadn’t got to that point, I’d have walked away thinking she was trying to hoodwink me by describing a personal brand that clearly didn’t exist.

What words have you discovered can lead to misunderstandings? Or can be read more than one way? Or what tiny bit of detail has added real clarity to your personal brand? Do please share with a comment below. Thank you!

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4 responses to “You CANNOT Be Serious! (And Other Misunderstandings)”

  1. Nicola Ralston says:

    Good points, but why do we need to sum ourselves up in three words?

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      You don’t have to Nicola – I was simply using that as a scenario to give some context to the post. You can – and should – have much more to your personal brand than just three words.

      That said, I’ve heard people say they’ve been in interviews and been asked the question, “If you only had three words to describe yourself, what would they be?” So it’s still worth being able to distil your entire brand down in case you’re ever in that situation.

  2. Jill Moran says:

    Thanks Jennifer loved today’s blog. Got my three 🙂

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