Are you always the same person, or do you act one way with friends and family, and a different way with clients and colleagues?

While on vacation, I was chatting (over a few margaritas) with a few ladies I had just met, and one of the women spoke warmly of her son. Although she seemed to be a loving and caring mother, I later found out from her friend that she had not given her son so much as a card for his recent birthday.

It made me think: How hard is it to be one way with one group of people and (perhaps after a few margaritas) be completely different with another group? Isn’t it harder than just being yourself all the time?

At a meeting of IABC’s Professional Independent Communicators, personal brand strategist Paul Copcutt talked about personal branding and what sets us apart. Discussing words that would immediately identify specific coffee shops without naming them showed clearly that when we make a purchase, it’s not just about the product or service. If each one will sell us a coffee, how do we choose between Tim Hortons and Starbucks?

Paul explained that rational attributes are the basic foot in the door; like every coffee shop selling coffee, you must have these to be considered. The emotional attributes are the unique aspects that set you apart and actually get you the job or the sale.

For example, you’d expect and want an accountant to be analytical and good with numbers, and a communicator to be creative and good with words. What sets otherwise equally qualified people apart might be their flair for fun, their responsive customer service or their vision.

Paul recommended identifying your strengths and focusing on them; “you’ll never get any better than mediocre at your weaknesses.”

One way to discover your strengths is to use a tool called a 360 Reach assessment, which offers a 15-day free trial. The tool invites your contacts to choose among various attributes the ones that best describe you. You then work the terms that best capture your strengths into your value proposition, your “elevator speech” or the one-liner that sums up what you do.

In general, Paul said, both family and work colleagues will likely describe you the same way; you’ll show similar characteristics whether at home or at work.

But he did describe someone who had suppressed one aspect of his personality at work. With Paul’s encouragement, he eventually allowed this hidden side to come out. This turned out to be welcome in the workplace and actually strengthened the fellow’s performance. Plus he could just be himself, all the time.

No margaritas required.