In the best fiction, great characters are revealed through their actions, mannerisms and appearance. In the opening scene of The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone, dressed in a tuxedo, sits in a darkened office behind a big desk. Across from him sits a man pleading for his help in correcting an injustice.
What do we learn? The Godfather is clearly a man of some power and influence — probably dark influence. He clearly commands respect, if not fear.
Now what if the movie instead opened with Don Vito saying, “Welcome to my office. How can I use the vast power and reach of my extended criminal empire to help you today? Shall I break some legs?”
How effective would that have been? The answer, obviously: not very.
But this is something we all do every day. We affix labels to ourselves. I’m dependable, I’m results-oriented, I’m meticulous …
It’s the match.com syndrome, where everyone is funny, intelligent and adventurous in their own minds.
But these are just hollow claims that everyone else on the planet makes. And they’re hardly objective, since few of us are reliable arbiters of our own special qualities.
So instead of speaking in literal terms about yourself, try stepping back and talking instead about specific behaviors and actions that support these claims. For example, which of these is more effective?
- I’m easy to reach … or … Your call never goes to voicemail
- I go above and beyond … or … When I missed fed ex I hopped a red eye to New York
- I’m low maintenance … or … I get my own coffee. In fact, I don’t even need a cup
- I’m reliable … or … I worked right through the bird flu
- I’m organized … or … I have a spread sheet to keep track of my spread sheets
- I’m a tough negotiator … or … I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse
You’re not only the character at the heart of your own life story, you’re the author of it, too. It’s up to you to tell it and, even better, show it.