Get over the idea that you can't share personal stories at work
by Brittany Taylor
published October 12, 2017
updated June 5, 2018
¶ My dad is an old-school business man. Every time he cajoles me into sharing new business idea with him, the conversation devolves into a lecture about scale and mass production, all of which are valid but also distinctly not how I think about businesses I personally want to run.
To each his own, right?
An origin story
Dad came up through the ranks the hard way. He’s worked in sales his whole life, first in department stores, then driving samples across a sales territory that spanned the Blue Ridge Mountains, then as an executive managing a first cost (re: wholesale) business. Dad knows his shit, and we both know this, so when he sits me down and gives me his lecture on business best practices, I may roll my eyes, but I listen.
Lesson #1: Business is personal
One thing I’ve learned from my dad is that business has always been personal. This idea that you don’t bring life to work? That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, nor is it a long-held one.
Humans aren’t automatons; aspects of our home lives have always seeped into our work spaces. My dad has been working since 1962. He can tell me about coworkers’ girlfriends from the ‘60s and the store owner he met in 1972 who was the only one who bought a pair of butterfly-embroidered boots that he remembers so well, he can sketch them decades later. He knows who is sick, who just had a grandkid, and who just converted to Buddhism.
The transference of these personal details is a side effect of building relationships with people. It’s a consequence of spending time together, and it’s a good thing. It binds you to others in a way that calendar invites and invoices do not. It builds empathy. It fosters an emotional interest in making a particular business relationship work. It gives you a driving interest in doing a damn good job not just because you have a reputation to uphold but also because this individual trusts you to do it.
That means something. It means a lot more than follower counts or pageviews, from where I’m sitting.
Why now is the perfect time to get personal
We’re starved for personal contact. We want to know the people we work with. We want to understand their backgrounds. We want to have conversations that go beyond small talk.
We, as a workforce, crave more honest interactions. Not team-building trust falls, not platitudes, and not political diatribes while we’re reheating our tea in the microwave. We want to bring a dose of friendship and community to work.
Now, thanks to the internet, thanks to social media, we can do all that without the weird cone-shaped cups at the watercooler—and we can do it really well. We can make connections with people we would not have been able to meet two decades ago.
When it comes to forming new relationships across companies, industries, and continents, personal elements are what make you stand out. You need to give these strangers a reason to remember your name. Personal details, whether it comes from stories or catchphrases or tone (or, ideally, all three), does exactly that.
OK, traditionalists. Stop clutching your tie pins
When I mention personal stories at work, I’m not talking about bowel movements or sexual encounters. You don’t have to go TMI when you go personal. So, you know, breathe. It’s gonna be OK. We’re gonna get used to this brave new world together.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.