How to talk about yourself
In our tech-savvy times there is an area of skill that is under threat and that is knowing how and when to talk about yourself. In the advent of the 'personal brand', brought about by social media profiling and up-to-the-second communications, different modes of self-image are beginning to converge.
The Freudian Thing...
According to Freud, a person functions through the interaction of unconscious drives and forces at play between the various structures of our personalities. Put simply, we are consciously driven to be satisfied and we are also driven to defend. But we all know things are a bit... ok, a lot more complex than that. There are also forces at work on our unconscious, confusing and conflicting our drives for satisfaction and defence. Our interactions with the world at large—maternal advice and advertising alike—collude and cajole to shape our judgements and decision making.
How we think about ourselves and how we present that to others is influenced by these unconscious forces.
The Social Media Thing...
The unfathomable yet limited success of Instagram sensations and ubiquity of approachable-seeming celebs with their Twitter accounts, provide us with a contemporary model of how to talk about yourself as a personal brand: over-exposed and always ‘on’. But there is more to selling yourself than exposing your every facet and there is certainly more to personal interactions than a successful sales pitch...right?
When somebody turns to you and says, So tell me about yourself, it’s the context in which it is asked that defines how the answer should be approached.
It's All About context
Let’s look at that question in both an interview context and a date, the two most important situations to field that question successfully in.
Tell me about yourself is the typical kick-start to any interview but it really isn’t an invitation to tell the interviewer about yourself, or whatever you regard to be ‘yourself’. In this context your potential employer is asking about their potential employee, and likely doesn’t want to know your unique social media points i.e. your dogs and childhood memories. Think: education, employment and skills. Approaching the question under this three-point framework, referencing the job description is probably the best way to go.
In Forbes magazine, Liz Ryan also champions what she calls 'Spinning The Table', which in short means asking a relevant question. She suggests that after your skills-focused answer you should ask about the vacancy itself, effectively turning the Q&A into a consultation, showing your focus and your understanding of the company’s larger context.
This sort of attentive ‘forward thinking’ talk can be a tad off-putting in a dating situation. There is a subtle shift between your online dating profile and the fragile interpersonal moment that is the first date. According to a recent study (and almost everyone’s instinct) a clear indicator of a dying vibe is when you both start playing Q&A. Stanford sociologist Daniel McFarland says that a smooth-running date focuses on visibly engaged communication, including interjections and interruptions. But, wading in with "I disagree!" won’t get you anywhere either.
Body language is a system of signs to be read, interpreted and responded to. Most likely you will be doing these things unconsciously because more so than interviews and online profiles, the medium absolutely is the message! But there are plenty of sure-fire body language checks that you can do to double-check your date is going well.
So between the interview room, the first date and your multiple online profiles there is room for shifts and readjustments to that ‘self’ you're supposed to be talking about, and in classic pep-talk style: You’re a dynamic beast in a changing landscape, go get ‘em tiger!