We often think of Halloween as our one chance every year to dress up. To put on a mask and pretend to be something, someone, we’re not--and sure, if we take it to the logical extreme, it makes perfect sense. When else can we dress up as Batman, or a cartoon character and be showered with looks of amazement, not judgment?*
- Comic Con not included
But not all masks are not created equal. Some, like the ones we wear on All Hallow’s Eve, are worn for pageantry, while others are worn out of reflex. Think about the last time you went to a meet and greet (are those still a thing?). While you were meeting and greeting, did you find yourself breaking the ice by talking about your distaste for the color brown? I doubt it. Instead you probably did the niceties, asked their name, where they work, and began shooting the breeze that way. I’ve got news for you, friend, that’s you wearing a mask.
Don’t get me wrong, wearing a mask isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes these subconscious masks can hide who we really are. What we need to do is explore how to navigate wearing those masks while still letting your true self shine through.
SOCIAL NORMS MASKS
This one pops out when you grab your morning cup of coffee, or while you’re waiting for the next train to come, or even when you’re walking through the streets. You interact with people either verbally – “Excuse me,” “Thank you,” “Good morning,” – or physically, by holding the door for them, for example, but you often walk through those interactions without any real semblance of communication.
Holding that door for the person behind you is a good thing to do, and is probably appreciated by the other person, but why not inject some good ol’ fashioned you into that equation? Throw in an offhand comment, or a self-deprecating joke. Whatever it is that makes you tick, add a little dash of that in there. I promise, the line at the coffee place, though very docile and quick already, will be less dreaded if you made genuine small talk with the person in front of you. Show your interest and add a little flair to that mask. It’ll be as neat as when the barista makes a design in your foam.
The same can be said for the masks we wear at work. You may have an incredible work culture, and a good relationship with your coworkers that extends beyond the office, but you still wear a mask at work.
Take for example, a meeting with your boss. You’re probably not going to sit down super casually with them and drop f-bombs and tell crazy stories about your Friday night (#KatyPerry). Instead you’ll reel yourself in a bit, listen intently, maintain eye-contact, perhaps be a little more agreeable, and likely, pretty deferential. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but it does differ from the conversations you have with people who actually know you.
If you want to throw a little more you into the conversation, please do, and do it without fear. Remember, this person hired you, at least in part, because they like you. Bring that out a little more in those conversations and watch as the rapport between you strengthens. This can be by making small-talk about a shared interest, or simply striking up a small convo every time your paths cross. Add a little you to that work mask, and you will reap the rewards.
MEETING NEW PEOPLE MASKS
Think, again, back to the last meet and greet you went to, or the last time you were introduced to a new group of people. Now think about how that scenario played out. Did you leave that interaction thinking, “I really liked those people?” Or did you leave and immediately forget about them? If you forgot about them, it’s probably because the entire interaction took place behind a mask. All parties followed the accepted tropes of what to say when you meet someone new and the interaction got lost among the dozens of other interactions just like it.
Avoid this. Meet someone new and dress up that mask a little. Make sure they remember you.
How do you do this? It’s simple: be true to who you are. Don’t be afraid to engage with people—disagree, even-- on topics you care about, but have a respectful conversation. Don’t belittle them, or alienate them, just talk to them. Make a joke. Tell them something a little personal; and you will make an impression—if not a new friend.
Do this and watch your masks slowly start to show the real you. You might even like it a little better.
Until next time – who do you want to be?