What can archetypes do for you?

“It is possible for the unconscious or an archetype to take complete possession of a man and to determine his fate down to the smallest detail”
Carl Jung

In an era where personal branding has taken on enormous significance, presenting yourself in the right way is both easier and more important than ever. Big businesses have long used the power of archetypes to help with this. Now, with the power of social media, we all have the opportunity to develop coherent images of ourselves that make life easier not only for us, but also for the people we meet during the course of our professional lives. As success in any field is always predicated on your ability to connect with other people, even a short time spent in considering matters of presentation pays dividends. In this week’s first part of a two-part blog, I’m going to explain why archetypes are a powerful professional tool and in Part 2 I’ll offer some advice on how you can use them to your advantage.

When we first meet somebody, we always try to get some kind of a handle on who they are and why they are there. Meaningful interaction is impossible without answers to these questions. The answers come from a range of inputs (e.g. their demeanour, appearance and what they say) and from there we subconsciously build an image of who we think the person is. Due to the enormous complexity of human beings and because of the sheer number of people we all meet, shortcuts have been developed that allow us to get a working understanding of who we think somebody is without having to collect very much information.

This system facilitates effective communication everywhere, and people deliberately aid the process by giving us clues about what their role is in a given environment – if you walked into a supermarket and the staff were all wearing plain clothes, it would be tremendously frustrating if you wanted to ask somebody about where a particular product was. A uniform works as a powerful signal to people telling them what type of interaction they can expect from the wearer. This is the case whether it’s an official uniform, as in a supermarket, or an unofficial one, as in the case of somebody who decides to wear a turtleneck jumper to go to a drinks reception at an art gallery. This signalling gives you a feeling that you have some kind of handle on that person and have at least a rough idea of what to expect going into the conversation. Whether or not you actually do have a handle on the person is another matter; what is important early on is that you feel comfortable interfacing with them.

In a business environment, the restrictive dress code limits the use of this kind of symbolism, but there is still a great deal of scope for making first encounters a bit easier on the other person, and therefore yourself. Politicians tend to be very good at this, and the ones who aren’t suffer for it. Obama doesn’t wear a hat with “Don’t worry guys, I’ve got this” written on it – but he conveys the same message through his behaviour. By embodying archetypal ideas of what a leader should be he is able to make people feel totally comfortable around him. The power of unambiguous self-presentation is remarkable and works far better in terms of inspiring trust than somebody who sets themselves up as a saint in order to win friends.

Somebody who is clearly pursuing his own business interests is unlikely to come away from a networking event having made some new buddies for life, but people will feel infinitely more comfortable dealing with him than they would with somebody trying to conceal what are quite obviously their true motivations for being there. In short, clarity of presentation is more important than the specifics of the presentation itself if you want to make strong connections with people, quickly. How can we achieve this in practice? Find out in Part 2, going live at 11:00am on Friday 28th October. See you then!

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